In The Know

So I was thinking: when I tell most people that I am going to culinary school, 9 times out of 10 they want to know some little tips and tricks that they can use to help them in the kitchen, serve a better party, or just feel like they know a thing or two to impress someone.

Hence, my "In The Know" posts. In these posts, I will discuss some little known culinary tips and tricks that you will be able to use for any of the above reasons and many more to enhance your culinary repertoire.

Shock: shocking refers to placing a cooked item (most often boiled vegetables) into an ice water bath to stop the cooking. This immediately cools them down and allows them to stay brightly colored. When making egg salad, you are doing the same step with hard-boiled eggs.

Concassé: (pronounced con-cah-say) this little culinary tidbit refers to the process of boiling tomatoes in water to remove their skin, seeding and chopping. We begin by bringing a large pot to a boil; no salt please. While you are waiting, cut an "x" in the bottom of the tomatoes you wish to peel, not too deeply, and core them taking out only the spot where the vine was attached. Once the pot boils, toss in your tomatoes. Fill a large bowl with ice and add water. That should be just enough time to take the tomatoes out of the water (you don't want them in there for more than 2 minutes). Allow them to cool, or "shock" in the ice water to stop the cooking process. Peel the tomatoes. Cut them in half along the equator and squeeze out the seeds (be gentle, if they give you trouble use a small spoon to scoop it out). This process usually works best if the tomatoes are super ripe, so varieties like Roma or home grown work best.

Crudités: crudités (pronounced crew-deh-TAY) is a French word meaning "raw vegetables". So, therefore, a crudités platter is a platter of raw vegetables.

Stringy Celery: love having a crudités platter but hate getting the celery strings stuck in your teeth? The best way to eliminate this problem (one that many restaurants follow) is to use a vegetable peeler (like you do with carrots) and peel the outside layer off of the celery. Don't worry about peeling the underside where it curls. The outer layer contains the strings. Peel it, and you've got no problem! (In the photos below, peel the side of the vegetables you see on the right, not the left.)

Also, don't throw out the top parts with the leaves. Add them to any recipe or potato salad to add extra celery flavor. Use them like parsley in a soup, or eat them on their own in a salad. Mmmm.

Mirepoix: (pronounced mere-pwah) is a French term for the combination of two parts onion to one part carrot and one part celery. This combination of aromatic vegetables helps to make the base of soups, stocks, braises and stews.

Mise en place: (pronounced meeze-en-plahs) literally translates to "put in place". My favorite television chef, Alton Brown, always comments: "Organization will set you free." And it's completely true, in almost every situation. No matter what you're making, you will always be at ease if you know where everything is, and have it premeasured before you start the cooking process. Extra steps, you say? Maybe, but it can be the difference between gently searing beautiful scallops and making them as chewy as the bottom of your shoe. Get everything ready beforehand, and then get to it (this includes pots, pans, utensils, and reading through your recipe!!!)

Why are most terms in the Culinary industry French? As my good friend Tevye says: "I'll tell you why: I don't know." Truth is, I don't know either, but I do know one thing: the French had the first restaurant (as we know them today) in 1765 in Paris. It took a French chef, Georges-Auguste Escoffier, to create an organized system, called a brigade system, to help the kitchen staff know exactly what they were responsible for. This revolutionized the industry and set the foundation for different specializations in the kitchen (such as the garde manger or cold-kitchen, the saucier or sauce chef, and pâtissier or pastry chef, to name a few). Escoffier simplified the process through his Cuisine Classique method (classic cuisine). The French may be snooty, but they have a darn good system in the kitchen and we're sticking to it.

To love, to food, l'chaim!


P.S. Most of this information can be found in the 8th edition of The Professional Chef from the Culinary Institute of America (the OTHER CIA). This will be the last culinary textbook you will ever need. It has recipes, historical information, cuisines from around the world and proper methods to ensure all of your dishes come out picture perfect. Get it. Now.


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