In a restaurant kitchen you will inevitably find a roll of colored 3M “painters” tape. This indispensable tool is used to label product, establish freshness, and force accountability for less-than-perfect mise en place. The tape stays put but comes off with ease. In my home kitchen there is no need for accountability. If it is wrong, I did it. But, I relish the ability to identify the contents within my refrigerator, bulk food jars in the pantry, and nondescript satchels in the freezer. No more discovering fuzzy forgotten food items. If you want to impress a Chef, be sure to use a tape dispenser or scissors for clean edges. Torn tape is a punishable offense in most kitchens – a neurotic edict that speaks to my A-type soul.
Homemade soup stocks are priceless in creating flavor and richness in soups, stews, sauces and more. The base of Western stocks is a classic mirepoix of carrots, onions, and celery. These commonly used kitchen staples produce a fair amount of waste trimmings in the due course of cooking. The next time you trim an onion, cut the tops off your celery stalks, or peel carrots, consider starting a freezer stash of stock scraps. Did your garlic sprout? Toss it in. Green onion tops, in the go. Parsley stems, why not? Remove any dirt or rotten parts and store these scraps in the freezer. Continue to build your stash until you have enough veggie bits to make a pot of stock – a gallon-sized Ziploc is perfect. You have everything you need for a delicious vegetable stock. Add bones for chicken stock, beef stock, or fish stock and you can say goodbye to bland store-bought boxed stock.
If you need evidence of mis-information on the internet, Google “how to purge clams.” Despite the myriad of semi-scientific and flat out crackpot recommendations, there is nothing mystical or difficult about getting a mollusks to spew residual sand and muck during standard respiration. First, it is worth noting that nearly all clams you will buy from a store in the US have ALREADY been purged. Even still, a last rinse, just before you cook your clams, will ensure that you don’t grind sand between your teeth at dinner. Using a colander placed within a larger bowl, submerge the clams in room temperature water. Agitate the clams in the water for 20-30 seconds and then lift the colander and dispose of the dirty water. Repeat this process until the water appears grime free. Then you are ready to make clams in salsa verde, paella, and more!
If the task at hand requires many cloves of garlic, skip the knife and opt for a glass jar or two metal mixing bowls – any hard surfaced container will work. Break apart the head of garlic and throw away the outer skin. Place the individual gloves into your container and close it. Now take out any frustrations you may have but shaking the container as hard as you can for 10 seconds. Make some noise! With adequate muscle, your cloves will emerge from their beating pale and naked. Pluck the peeled cloves from the skins and they are ready for use.
Minced garlic is among the most commonly used ingredients in Mexican and Mediterranean kitchens. While mincing is not a real hardship and fresh cut is always more flavorful, having ready-to-go garlic is a welcome relief when preparing a weeknight dinner in a pinch. A simple 10-minute prep will provide you with weeks of minced garlic. Start by peeling 4 heads of the garlic. Place the peeled cloves in your blender and add a cup of water. Pulse on high until desired consistency. Next, strain the garlic slurry through a fine metal sieve, pressing out the excess water with a spoon. Place the garlic into a small glass jar that closely fits the amount of minced garlic you have created. Oxygen is the enemy so fill the jar tightly, working out any air bubbles. Top the surface of the garlic with a layer of olive oil to prevent discoloration, tightly close and store in the refrigerator. That’s it! The next time you need minced garlic, skip the knife and reach for a spoon!
If you try to skin a raw tomato, you will soon be sputtering expletives and tempted to crush the uncooperative orb in your fist. Fortunately, there is a much easier way.
First, fill a bowl with ice water. Then, cut a shallow X, just through the skin, on the bottom of the tomato and place it into a pot of boiling water for no more than a minute. Take the tomato out with a slotted spoon, and slide it into the ice bath for 5 seconds. Pluck the shocked tomato from the water and peel the skin off with a knife or your fingers. It should slip off easily.
Vacuum sealing machines are a handy tool for warding off freezer burn, accelerating marination, and preparing food items for sous vide cooking. But you don’t need to buy a pricey, space hogging device to remove air from a plastic bag. There are two methods that work sufficiently well for home tasks.
The straw method: Place the food item in a Ziploc bag and seal, leaving just a tiny opening large enough for a straw. Insert the straw and suck out the air. When it is sufficiently devoid of air, quickly slip out the straw and close the bag.
The dunk method: Same as before, prepare the Ziploc bag with a partial opening then submerge the bag in a large pot of water without letting the opening go under the surface. The water will press out any air present in the bag. Carefully seal the opening and lift. Voila!
You will notice that vacuum sealing a wet or liquid product, such as meat in a marinade, is especially challenging. No problem! Simply freeze the item before sealing.
I am an unabashed soup fiend. Brothy, creamy, hot or cold, I love the liquid food. I ascribe this to my mother’s soup making skills and the fact that all winter, when I came into the house from school – cheeks stinging from the wind, I would find a hot pot of soup on the wood burning stove. A rotation of chicken noodle, vegetable, and beef barley, I loved them all and would immediately thaw my frozen hands on a full mug.
Yet, my Granny Celia held the title as best soup maker for her simple potato soup. With magic I have yet to conjure correctly, Granny would peel the skins from her potatoes using a 10-inch kitchen knife creating long continuous ribbons and then dice them into perfect cubes. She transformed milk, butter, potatoes, onion, salt and pepper into a sublimely satisfying soup that was always served with soft white bread and creamy butter that never saw the inside of a refrigerator.
I didn’t think a mere potato could reach higher until I encountered a remarkable trick of knifery – the cascada cut that the Spanish use routinely to thicken soups and stews. To make the cut, one slides a knife into the raw potato and then pries the piece outward, snapping the uncut edge of the potato. This broken edge exudes more starch than does a regular clean cut. That starch serves to thicken the soup base without need for a roux. Once you have gotten it down, test out the magic of this technique in a simple but delicious Potato Soup with Chorizo and Kale.
Chronically impatient in the kitchen, searing meat used to seem like an unnecessary and time-consuming step to me. On the contrary, searing is critically important to your dish’s depth of flavor. And, frankly, it requires nothing more than patience. The process is simple:
- Hot pan, Dry meat – Skip the non-stick surface, and use a stainless steel or a cast iron skillet. Add a tablespoon of oil, swirl it around to get an even coating on the pan, and set the pan set over high heat. As the pan heats, pat the meat dry so moisture in the pan doesn’t steam instead of sear. Just as the oil starts smoke, you’re ready to add the meat.
- Don’t crowd the pan – If you’re cooking smaller pieces of meat, like for a stew, leave an inch of space between the pieces of meat to ensure even cooking and to keep the pan temperature smoking hot.
- Leave it then shake it – Once the meat is in the pan, don’t touch it. If left on its own, meat will initially stick to the bottom of the pan and then miraculously release itself when seared. After a few minutes, shake the pan. If the meat releases and moves around freely, it’s ready to be flipped.
Test out your searing abilities with our Creamy Lime Pasta Salad with Seared Salmon.