Monday, June 9, 2014

House Ruling Your Recipes

In this blog I've written quite a bit about how to take pieces from one game and use them to improve another.  It's a great trick for making your game exactly what you want it to be without all the work of making up a whole new rule.  Cooking can work in much the same way. There are techniques and combinations that you will learn from recipes that you can use over and over again to improve your cooking.

Today I wanted to talk about three really simple techniques that will allow you to level up your recipes.  Trying out these tricks is an easy way to put your own spin on what you cook. 

Caramelized Onions

The first and easiest technique is caramelizing onions.   Most people have had caramelized onions before (and they're delicious), but I'm always surprised at how few people actually make them.  They do add a bit of cooking time, but are worth it.  They are very useful in dip or soup recipes, or just for putting on a piece of meat. However you choose to use caramelized onions will make your flavors pop. 

The first thing to do is slice the onion into thin strips.  Start by cutting the onion in half, slicing though the root end.  Take your halves and cut the tip opposite the root then slice the onion from tip to just before the root.  Slice this way until you've cut the whole onion half into 1/8th to 1/4th inch strips still attached at the root.  Now cut the onion half in half again, slicing all of your strips in half and cut the root end off leaving you with two sets of equal strips.  Repeat this with the other half of the onion.

Now, in a large non-stick pan add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  You can also use butter or reserved bacon fat here, but be careful as both are more prone to smoking.  Heat the oil to medium. You can test if it's ready by flicking some water into the pot. it will pop when it's hot enough (when doing this, sometimes hot oil will spit out of the pan so be aware).  Add the onions and let them cook.  Move them around every 5 to 10 minutes while cooking and keep an eye on their color.  After about 35 minutes they should begin to turn amber brown.  Once you get a good even color throughout (you'll also find that you can flatten the pieces with your spoon like a jelly) remove them from the pan.  From here add them to any recipe that calls for onions, just skip any pre-cooking of them the recipe calls for.

Blooming Spices

Caramelizing onions takes a long time, so here's a technique that's even easier.  You'll find instructions to bloom your spices frequently in Indian cuisine but you can use it in almost any recipe you’re cooking.  You’ll just want to make sure your recipe calls for non-powdered spices.  If you're using ground spices or whole seeds (like cardamom, star anise, or coriander) all you need to do is set aside about 1/4 of what the recipe calls for before you start cooking. 

In the vessel you'll be cooking add a small amount of oil (this will depend on the recipe, but typically a teaspoon will be plenty, just make sure you have enough to coat the spices) and heat it at medium high.  When it's hot, throw the spices in and let them cook for about 5 minutes before you take the first step the recipe calls for.  This will infuse the oil with the spice’s flavors and really make them stand out in your final product.

Browning Butter

Browning butter is another technique that is very quick and can be used in almost anything that calls for butter.  It does take a little more attention than the other two techniques though, so be warned.  Browning your butter before cooking adds a rich and nutty flavor to your food. This is especially good for baked goods (chocolate chip cookies especially), white pasta sauces, and sautéed veggies.

For this you'll want a silver bottomed pan (this means non-stick pans are not a good idea).  Place the butter you'll be using into the pan and turn it to medium (you will be reducing the butter a little, so add an extra table spoon of butter for each stick the recipe calls for).  Let the butter melt but then you're going to want to keep a close eye on it.  At first the butter will boil/pop violently, after 7 or 8 minutes of this, it should start to turn a little brown.  Swirl the butter around as it cooks and wait for the popping to slow.  Around this time the butter in the pan will start getting darker, pull it as soon as you notice this (this is why you want to use a silver bottomed pan-it's hard to see the color change otherwise).  You want to be quick with this because browned butter is delicious but burnt butter is terrible.  You'll notice right away the nutty, buttery scent and that's the flavor you'll be bringing to the recipe.

With these three techniques you can start adding your own signature to dishes.  Let these experiences embolden you to try more techniques and combinations as you come across them.  Next week I want to discus genre emulation in games, how to use it and where it can go to far, but until then have some fun and get cooking.  Talk to you later.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a little confused by the spice-blooming instructions. By "set aside 1/4 of what the recipe calls for," do you mean "only use 1/4 of what the recipe calls for, because bloomed spices are more potent" or "only bloom 1/4 of the spices; use the other 3/4 regularly"?

    Also: any idea why the powdered-vs-non-powdered distinction is relevant? Just curious.