Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Food Sticking to a Stainless-Steel Pan

In our arsenals of cookware, I believe that most people have at least one (or more) “non-stick” pans that they rely on for certain tasks. From non-stick coatings, to ceramic and titanium pans, and even well-seasoned cast iron pans – they are out there. But what about the good old, tried and true, stainless steel pan? Many complain that food sticks to it too much and thus tends to be cast aside.

A stainless-steel pan must be of good quality. As with most cookware, you get what you pay for. You need a pan of high-grade stainless steel and a base that provides even heating and good heat retention. Talk to the professionals at your local kitchen supply store as they are a wealth of information and will be able to steer you in the right direction.

The first step is to make sure that your pan is evenly heated before you put anything in the pan. The most common mistake is that food is added at the same time (or shortly thereafter) the pan meets the stove. The pan needs to be hot first, even before you add any oil. Once the pan is hot, add a small amount of high-heat oil (like grape seed, coconut, rice bran, etc. – there are many to choose from) and then the food. The food may still stick at first, but only for a short time. Once the ingredients have been seared briefly they should start to move around the pan freely with little effort.

Let’s examine this procedure further in the example of cooking a steak, or a piece of meat or seafood A stainless steel pan is the best choice in this example because it allows some of the browning of the meat to stay in the pan to help flavour the perfect accompanying pan sauce. The preliminary steps as mentioned above are the same: you must make sure the empty pan is hot first before you add anything. How hot will depend on many factors like the thickness of the meat and the doneness you are trying to achieve. I find the best way to test temperature in an empty pan is to sprinkle a bit of water. If the water sits in the pan and does nothing, it is not hot. If the water bubbles, spurts, and evaporates fairly quickly, it is getting hotter. When the water beads and rolls around the pan like little marbles before evaporating, then it is hot. A word of warning – this water test is to be done in a dry pan only with no oil. Do not attempt to add any oil, or fatty ingredients, while the water still exists in the pan otherwise it could spurt and burn you or cause a grease fire in your pan.

Once you know the pan is hot, and the water from testing it has evaporated, add a small amount of high-heat oil, and then the meat immediately after. If you think the pan is too hot, then after the meat has been added turn down the heat and/or temporarily remove the pan from the heat. The most important thing now is to not disturb the meat. It will be stuck at first, but trying to pry the meat from the pan at this point will just inhibit the crust from being formed. Once the meat has seared, and browned thoroughly, it will release itself easily from the pan when you attempt to flip it over. Cooking the other side without disruption at first is also crucial.

The one thing you will notice in the pan, unlike non-stick pans, is that there are browned bits from the meat left on the surface of the pan. This is called fond, and you want this to help flavour your pan sauce. Once the meat has been cooked to your desired doneness, remove it and set it aside to rest. Reduce the heat in the pan and some liquid to deglaze the pan. Deglazing is the process of lifting those browned bits off the pan and into the liquid with the help of some subtle scraping action with a utensil. Add your remaining sauce ingredients and cook until desired consistency has been reached. Serve with the awaiting meat and enjoy.

There are countless pan sauce recipes and variations online for you to try. My best piece of advice to you however, is practice. With repeated attempts you will get to understand how to recognize the heat exchange and how it affects the pan and ultimately the food. If you want to become good at anything… do it more – and cooking is no different. 

Until next time... Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How To Make Crabapple Raspberry Liqueur - an Adventure from the Orchard to the Liquor Cabinet

What does one do when you have a tree full of fruit that is practically inedible on its own? You make booze, of course!
My Mother-In-Law has a crabapple tree, that offered an overly abundant crop this year, so we decided to raid it and experiment with this malus fruit. Crabapples are very tart in the raw form, so some kind of cooking and processing of them is required. They are naturally very high in pectin, so crabapple jelly is an obvious recipe to transform these into, but I wanted to do something different.
"Do you have any vodka, Mom?" I asked.
"I have a whole bottle that I have had for years" she replied. A smile came to my face. Liqueur was the conclusive decision.

I was unsure that the crabapples alone would offer enough colour and flavour to the liqueur, so we also raided her raspberry patch and make Crabapple Raspberry Liqueur.
Although I have made many liqueurs in my lifetime, I have never made a variety quite like this. Basically to make any fruit liqueur, you soak it in vodka with sugar for a period of time and then strain it. It is so easy that you will be soon making all kinds of fruit liqueurs with any abundance of seasonal fruit you may have left over.

Here is the basic recipe we created, with pictures:

Crabapple Raspberry Liqueur
12 cups quartered crabapples
4 cups fresh raspberries (or from frozen)
4 cups white sugar
3 cups (750ml bottle) vodka

1. Place the cut crabapples and raspberries in a sealable container large enough to hold all of this fruit.
2. Add the sugar and pour in the vodka.
3. Stir to mix all the ingredients and let sit for 7 to 14 days, stirring it thoroughly once everyday. We sampled it everyday when we stirred it and ended up deciding that only 6 days was enough time - however the longer you let it sit, the more flavour and colour you will achieve.
4. Strain the solids. We used a pillow case and a fine wire mesh strainer to make sure we got out all the small raspberry seeds. For an even purer consistency, you may want to do a third straining using a coffee filter.
Until next time... Happy Cooking, and Happy Drinking!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

My Top 10 Barbecuing Tips

Summer is well underway now and if you haven’t dusted off your outdoor grill yet, you are missing out on a very flavourful lifestyle. So, in honor of the Kings & Queens of the backyard barbecue, the ones that struggle with it, and everyone in between, I give you my Top 10 Barbecuing Tips.

1. Charcoal – Mentioned in my previous blog entry, this is my #1 Tip. Cooking with this natural fuel of carbonized wood adds such a depth of flavour to everything from burgers to desserts. I am not talking manufactured square-shaped “briquettes” here; I am talking about lump charcoal: chunks of wood that have been heated with very little to no oxygen, so they naturally carbonize. According to archeological expeditions, we as humans have been cooking with this fuel for thousands of years, so this is the oldest known form of fuel to humankind. There is nothing more natural. Did you know propane and natural gas contain "ethyl mercaptan"? This is a chemical that is added to help detect gas leaks, but look it up - it's toxic. Inhale ethyl mercaptan directly and it will cause paralysis in your body. Yes, it is only added in small quantities (unharmful they say), but regardless why would you cook food over that for your family?

2. Internal Meat Thermometer – Use one. This is the only way to accurately prevent overcooking or undercooking any piece of meat.

3. Sauces are not Marinades – If you slather on BBQ sauce before your meat is cooked, the high sugar content in these sauces will burn. Sauces are meant to be glazes at the end of the cooking
process. When your food is about a minute or two from being done, spread some sauce on, close the lid, and let it glaze onto your food.

4. Never Clean Your Grill – Now when I say “grill” I am talking about your cooking grate/grid. The
worst thing you can do is take your grid to the sink and scrub it down with soapy water. All you need to do is take a grill brush to it when it is hot after the preheating of your grill to knock off any food residue from your previous grilling escapade. This will help to keep your grid seasoned and non-stick.

5. Always Preheat - Ensuring your grill is extremely hot will not only burn off any residual food bits from your last cookout, it will also guarantee great crust formation (and grill lines) on your food.

6. Oil the Meat - Oiling the meat in advance will not only help to enhance the crusting process (and the resulting increase in flavor), it will also assist in creating a non-stick environment. I always oil the meat before seasoning with salt and pepper just prior to going onto a hot preheated grill. If you are fully coating with a dry rub however, oiling won’t be necessary, and the dry rub will help prevent sticking.

7. Oil the Grates/Grids – This tip is more for delicate pieces of meat or fish. In combination of oiling the meat, this will also help in flavor creation and ease of release. This should be done with an oil that has a high smoke point. This is not an application for your extra virgin olive oil. Grapeseed oil or rice bran oil would be perfect, but a canola or vegetable oil will work fine. Oiling the grates/grids however should be done once they have been preheated. Protecting your hand with a grill mitt, dab some oil on a cloth and quickly, but efficiently, wipe down the hot grills. Be careful not to have the cloth soaking with oil to the point that would cause flare-ups. A light coating of oil will work fine.

8. Leave It Alone - Once the meat has been placed on the grill, the worst thing you could do is to prematurely break that contact of meat with grill. Even with following the above rules religiously, the meat will stick… at first. Leaving it alone allows it to create a crust (grill marks) and thus helping to release it from the cooking surface. If you are following the rules above and your meat is stuck to the grill, chances are it is trying to tell you that it is not ready to be flipped yet.

9. Brine - Brining can help protect light-meat poultry and lean pork. This is a technique that involves soaking in a salt-water solution for a period of time prior to cooking. Not only does this add moisture to the center of the meat, but also seasoning, as the salt saturated water is drawn in. A simple brining formula would be: one quarter cup salt dissolved in 4 cups of water for pieces of poultry or lean pork. Let the meat sit in the brine for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Remove from the brine, pat them dry, and cook as you normally would. This brining process will provide a moisture protection shield to help keep fully cooked meats juicy. However, this is only a safeguard – overcooking is still possible, but this lessens the chance of the meat turning out dry. The only other consideration you may need to give your recipe is the amount of seasoning. The meat will already be seasoned somewhat from the salt in the brine, so back off on the saltshaker.

10. Try Something New – This may be the best piece of advice. Let’s break away from the old standbys of hamburgers and hotdogs and try something new and different. There are so many ideas on the internet and in your cookbook collection that can easily liven up your next backyard cooking adventure. So, have fun and enjoy the outdoors.

Until next time... Happy Cooking and Happy Barbecuing!