Thoughts from the Farm: Heat
Hey there local food eaters,
While reading the unique cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat, I came across so many things that I wanted to share with you local food eaters.
The heat section was the largest, and the theme was simply to use your senses as your primary information source when cooking (as opposed to dials, thermometers, and precise instructions).
She writes, "Heat's sensory cues, including sizzles, spatters, cracles, steam, bubbles, aromas, and browning, are often more important than a thermometer. All of your senses -including common sense - will help you gauge heat's effects on food."
The drawings are so cute!
"As I traveled, I noticed that in every country, whether I was watching home cooks or professional chefs, and whether they were cooking over live fire or on a camp stove, the best cooks looked at the food, not at the heat source." She emphasizes that in her experience, good cooks use "sensory cues rather than thermometers and timers".
The sound of sizzling bacon, the way a steak feels when you touch it, or the jiggle tension on a chicken leg are all practical and reliable indicators.
Here are a few more tidbits of interest.
On the science of proteins and heat:
"Think of how heat transforms a chicken breast from flabby and watery to firm, tender, and moist when perfectly cooked. But apply too much heat and the protein clumps will continue to tighten, squeezing out the pockets of water. With its water expelled, the chicken becomes dry stringy and tough...The coiled threads [of protein strands] in each type of protein are unique, so the range at which different proteins coagulate [clump together more tightly] is vast. Preserve tender cuts of meat with careful, quick cooking, generally over the intense heat of a grill, preheated frying pan, or hot oven. If cooked to an internal temperature beyond 140 degrees F, the proteins within tender red meats will coagulate entirely, expelling water and yielding tough, chewy, overcooked steaks and lamb chops. Chicken and turkey breasts, on the other hand, don't dry out until temperatures surpass 160 degrees F."
"Browning begins around 230 degrees F - well past the boiling temperature of water and the coagulation point of proteins. Since the temperatures required to achieve this kind of tasty browning will dry out proteins, beware. Use intesne heat to brown the surface of meats and quickly cook tender cuts such as steaks and chops through. After browning a tougher cut such as brisket, on the other hand, use gentle heat to keep its interior from drying out.
A shortcut to browning:
"Or, do the opposite and cook it through with gentle heat. Then, once the meat is tender, increase temperatures to brown the surface."
We do this technique frequently with pork shoulders and chuck roasts. We will throw it, cold, into the crockpot or cast iron lidded pot with liquid and onions. At the end, when it is falling apart, we will take it out and shred the meat into a glass baking dish, pour some of the braising liquid over it, season to taste, and put the whole thing under the broiler for a minute to brown the top.
And some reminders/quick tips:
For food safety, reheat leftovers or frozen stock to boiling to kill pathogenic bacteria that may have grown. Boiling point of water is 212 degrees F, and a reliable way to gauge temperature without a thermometer. Rolling bubbles = boiling.
Select pan correctly: "How tightly a sheet pan of vegetables is packed is as much of a factor in even browning as the oven temperature. Let zucchini and peppers develop glorious sweetness and flavor by spreading them out so steam can escape and browning can begin sooner. Protect denser vegetables that take longer to cook, such as artichokes or cipollini onions from browning too much before they can cook through by packing them tightly in a pan to entrap steam." Additionally, use a lid to trap steam intentionally for steaming and sweating vegetables. Choose a large pot to sweat onions for soup, but choose a pan with lower sides to brown foods quickly.
Experiment with heat. Try browning a roast before braising, or after, and experience the difference for yourself.
"Perfectly done" food, from roast chicken to a grilled sandwich, is all about managing heat. Samin advises, "Work backward. Make a clear plan for yourself using sensory landmarks to guide you back to your goal." For example:
Enjoy fine tuning your cooking skills!
Kufte Kabobs, from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
This is the kind of thing that I am happy to have and use a recipe for; it is a traditional dish, of which I am not familiar or experienced, and precise quantities in this case are super helpful.
1 large pinch saffron 1 large yellow onion, coarsely grated 1.5 pounds ground lamb 3 garlic cloves, finely grated or pounded with a pinch of salt 1.5 teaspoons ground turmeric 6 Tablespoons very finely chopped parsley, mint, and/or cilantro in any comibnation Freshly Ground black pepper Salt.
Use the saffron to make saffron tea: steep 2 Tablespoons boiling water with a generous pinch of saffron for 5 minutes.
Squeeze the onion out with a piece of cheesecloth or thin cotton napkin, pressing out as much liquid as possible.
"Place the saffron tea, onion, lamb, garlic, turmeric, herbs and a pinch of black pepper into a large bowl. Add three generous pinches of salt and use your hands to knead the mixture together. Your hands are valuable tools here; your body heat melts the fat a little bit, which helps the mixture stick together and yields less crumble kebabs. Cook up a tiny piece of the mixture in a skillet and taste for salt and other seasonings. Adjust as needed, and if necessary, cook a second piece and taste again. Once the mixture is seasoned to your taste, moisten your hands and start forming oblong, three-sided meatballs by gently curling your fingers around 2 tablespoons of the mixture. Lay the little torpedoes onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. "To cook, grill the kebabs over hot coals until delightfully charred on the outside and just barely cooked through within, about 6 to 8 minutes. Rotate them often once they start to brown to give them an even crust. When done, the kebabs should be firm to the touch but give a little in the center when squeezed. If you're not sure whether they're done, cut one open and check - if there's a dime-sized diameter of pink surrounded by a rink of brown, it's done!"
"To cook indoors, set a cast iron skillet over high heat, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, flipping just once on each side."
"Serve immediately with rice, Persian herb yogurt, or shaved carrot salad with ginger and lime [recipes in book]."
She includes variations: for Moroccan style, omit the saffron and use only cilantro, reducing the turmeric to 1/2 teaspoon, and adding 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 3/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon finely grated ginger, and a small pinch of ground cinnamon. For Turkish style, use beef instead of lamb, ommit the turmeric, saffron, and herbs, and season instead with 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, and 8 finely chopped mint leaves.
Thanks for reading, and thanks as always for eating locally grown foods,