Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Heat Is On

Writing earlier this week in the NY Times, Harold McGee calls heat the "invisible ingredient" that can make or break a meal. Too many cooks, he writes, misuse heat.

We waste huge amounts of gas or electricity, not to mention money and time, trying to get heat to do things it can’t do. Aiming to cook a roast or steak until it’s pink at the center, we routinely overcook the rest of it. Instead of a gentle simmer, we boil our stews and braises until they are tough and dry. Even if we do everything else right, we can undermine our best cooking if we let food cool on the way to the table — all because most of us don’t understand heat.

. . . We’re often aiming a fire hose of heat at targets that can only absorb a slow trickle, and that will be ruined if they absorb a drop too much.
I found these excerpts helpful:
Tough cuts of meat require longer cooking to dissolve their connective tissue, and stewing or slow braising in a low oven is a simple and popular method of doing so. But many recipes don’t give the best results, simply because they don’t take into account the vast difference between cooking with the lid on and off. Even in an oven set as low as 225 or 250 degrees, if the pot is covered, the contents will reach the boil, and the meat will overcook and dry out.

Leave the lid ajar or off, and evaporation of the cooking liquid cools the pot and moderates the meat temperature, keeping it closer to 160 to 180 degrees. This is hot enough to soften the connective tissue in a few hours without also driving out most of the meat’s moisture.
The entire article is worth reading.

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