The case at your local seafood market or groceries store can look like an intimidating mess of food. How do I cook that? What will go well with that? What is that? Here are a few tips on how to take away some stress in the market.
First of all know what you want. Have something in mind. If you want something baked than buy a white fish or salmon. If you want something for a pasta go with prawns or other shellfish. Have an idea of how you want to use your seafood, that’ll help narrow it down a lot. I can’t go over how to cook every seafood in this post, bit I would be happy to give advice in a future post if you comment your request.
When buying fish look for something fresh. In whole fish like trout, look at the eyes of the fish they should be clear and their original color, not grey or milky. Look at the skin side, it should have a thin layer of slime. It shouldn’t look dry. Usually these signs mean the fish is older or has been frozen. While looking at the fillets see if the flesh is staying together nicely. If the flesh is separating on itself than it’s probably been frozen and won’t cook well in the end. Also look at how it’s cut, does it look professional, or like it was filleted with a spoon?
With shellfish like clams and mussels always make sure they’re closed. When you buy them, they should be alive, thus they’ll be closed. It can be dangerous buying open clams and mussels. They don’t last long at all when they’re dead. Make sure they aren’t crushed or chipped. When buying shrimp and prawns look for a medium size. Something with the shell on are usually treated the best. The shell should have color to it not all grey and transparent. With crab and lobster I just don’t reccomend buying it unless it’s alive still. I don’t think the ones in the super market that are cooked already have any chance of being good.
My last bit of advice is buy local seafood. I don’t reccomend buying a fish that’s been shipped from Spain that was caught a week ago because it’s cool, or the eel from vietnam. It won’t be good anymore. Buy seafood that was caught recently and locally.
Pasta is a very simple thing, egg, flour, salt, oil and flour. With many simple things it can also be easy to make mistakes. Here are some tips to do pasta dishes right.
Now first off let’s select the pasta we are going to use. You can make your own pasta which really has a wonderful texture. I can share how to do that in a separate blog post. However I really do think midshelf store bought pasta is good for the price. When selecting the type of pasta you’re going to use think about how it’ll go with the sauce. With lighter sauces like with a Vongole pasta I suggest something thin with a delicate texture like Angel Hair. For something thicker and chunky I suggest something like orchetti which is like a half circle. It’s thicker and can hold pockets of the sauce. For something cream based and richer I reccomend something like linguini, longer and a little on the thicker side, it allows it to stand up to the richness of the sauce.
Now that we’ve selected our pasta we must cook it. Always season your water and I always taste mine. I always make sure it tastes seasoned. Never use oil. Many cooks add oil to prevent your pasta from sticking together, don’t do that!! The oil coats the pasta and creates a barrier so the sauce will have no chance of sticking to the pasta itself. Always cook the pasta a little al dente it’ll continue to cook. Never rinse your pasta, this washes off all the starch that will help thicken your sauce.
Not that you have your seasoned and cooked pasta add it directly to your sauce. I always simmer my pasta in the sauce for at least a minute before serving. This allows ten pasta to incorporate into the sauce rather than just dumping some on top. Now you can serve a better pasta dish.
It’s important to have 1 good knife, but having a good knife means you need to treat it well too. Chefs are generally super touchy with their knives. The unspoken rule is never ever touch another cooks knife. Everyone maintains their knives differently, to different levels of sharpness and cleanliness. I’m going to give you my thoughts on how a good knife should be maintained.
A good knife will do you a lot of good, but like a car you need to know how to keep it performing well. Keeping a knife sharp is very important. Several things you should never do with your knife is slam it hard on the board while you’re slicing or dicing. Be gentle with it. Gently roll the knife through whatever you’re slicing or dicing. It’s not like an old school paper cutter where you slam it down. When you slam a knife against the board super hard it’ll create a burr. A burr is where the edge of the blade is pushed to one side and from a burr that’s not fixed leads to a dull knife. Another thing to avoid is letting it slide around with countless other kitchen gadgets on the shelf. A good knife is like a beta fish it’s great by itself beautiful and majestic, but shouldn’t be mixed in with a bunch of other utensils. This will cause the knife to get rubbed around on a bunch of stuff and make it dull much faster. My last tip of things not to do is dishwash it. Ever. The dishwasher will seriously dull a knife quick. It’s not good for wooden handles and anything that’s carbon steel. Always hand wash with soapy water. Also it’s just safer. You don’t have to remember you put a knife somewhere and cut yourself.
Some tips to keep that knife super sharp and efficient are pretty easy. Every time you’re done using your knife give it a hone. A lot of people own a honing steel, it’s the metal dowl looking thing with the usually wooden handle. If not I highly recommend buying one. They’re pretty cheap. Just rub both sides of the knife across the steel, equal times on each side. This will fix any burr and keep it sharp for a good amount of time. Also when I store my knives that won’t fit in my case i wrap them in a bar towel. Any thick cloth you can wrap around your knife a few times will work. This prevents it from getting dull at idle. It also makes it safe. My last bit of advice is when it does get dull get it sharpened. Find someone with a whetstone, or tristone to sharpen it for you. You can have it professionally done, but befriend a chef it’s cheaper that way.
I’ve been cooking for over 8 years now and something most cooks treasure is their knives. It’s important in a restaurant to have a nice quality knife that’s consistently sharp. It makes the food preparation cleaner and quicker. However it’s also important to have a good knife for a home cook too.
So many times I’ve gone into someone’s home kitchen to cook a meal and have been appalled by how God awful the knives can be. Usually on a shelf mixed with a messy heap of other kitchen utensils. It’s some store brand variety. There are several reasons why it’s a good idea to spend some extra money and have one really nice knife. Having a dull knife is just a liability.
First of all it’s actually not safe using a dull knife. Trying to saw through a tomato, the knife not being able to get through the skin of it, so we just press harder until it does. The risk is it’ll slip and with how much pressure we’ve put on the knife trying to get through the tomato it can really hurt us if a finger is nearby. Furthermore a dull knife is a lot worse to get cut by than a sharp one. A sharp knife will leave a clean cut while the dull one will do more damage to you. Another danger is pulling the knife out of the haystack that is the kitchen untensil shelf. If it’s buried at all and you’re not careful getting cut can be an easy accident.
Food quality is much better with a sharp knife. At home having super clean cuts is probably less important than at a restaurant, however it is still important. Anytime you cut herbs with a dull knife it will just smash them and all the flavor will be left on your cutting board. Have you ever chopped a bunch of herbs and looked at the cutting board after to a bright yellow green spot where the herbs were? That’s most of the flavor of the herbs right there that won’t make it into the food. Also when slicing things like tomatoes, the better knife will allow you to cut consistent, moderately thin slices as opposed to slices where one end is the desired thickness and the other side is much thicker. If that all wasn’t enough, the better knife will allow you to finish tasks more quickly. No more struggling with produce or meats, sawing away until you get there. It takes me far less time using the better knife.
Now you don’t have to break the bank to get the better knife. Knives range from 5 dollar Wal-Mart disasters to 600 Ferraris of the kitchen. I use shuns and globals they range from 80 to 160 dollars typically speaking. I highly recommend an 10 inch chefs in either of those brand’s for an exceptional chefs knife. Ice had some of mine for over 8 years and they’re doing me very well. Shun I believe has a lifetime warranty and they do free sharpening if you send them in, you just have to mail it and they send it back sharp like new. If you want my cheaper recommendation, go with a vicrorinox knife. They’re about 25 to 45 dollars and they do very well. They stay sharp a long time and they sharpen very easily. I started out using them and I’ve used many great knives since and I would highly recommend a vicrorinox still.
Recently at school we have taken a mock version of a certified sous chef certification of the American Culinary Federation. On occasion I would go to class without much of a plan on what I would be making the next day. With a certification like this they want everything planned and a lot of technique shown. A menu, timeline, prep list, equipment list and a scrap utilization list are almost all required to pass. It can work, but if something goes wrong there’s little time to come up with a plan B.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working on organization and planning and it’s helped tremendously. You run into less problems and when problems do arise you’ve saved so much time by managing your time you can come up with a viable back up plan. The time spent making a prep list and time line beat the stress of having to come up with things and execute them accurately on the spot.
Time really is money in the restaurant industry, so writing tasks that need to get done can also help you find areas you’re spending too much time. Or it can help the order of prep make more sense so you’re not constantly walking around the kitchen looking for something. Gathering all the equipment and product you need and keeping them at the station minimizes walking time and saves labor cost. The time it takes a well organized cook to do 10 items is much quicker than an equally skilled less organized one.
Going to cook is a lot less stressful when you have a prep list and a time line. Most of the usual worries and stresses of cooking are eliminated. The more organized you cook the better cook you can become, in part because attention to detail becomes of the upmost importance. You start to do things more quickly and efficiently.
This is probably the single largest issue people have with cooking. They stress out about it and think they can’t do it. It’s not as hard as most people think. Cooking in a restaurant is difficult, because you’re cooking for so many people. Cooking at home can be relaxing and fun.
If you understand the concepts the details will come later on. What I usually tell stressed out home cooks is to educate yourself on cooking techniques. If you know cooking methods and can then find out what foods are cooked best by those methods that’s over half of the battle already.
Flavors are important. Don’t second guess yourself so much. I did the same thing when I started cooking. I second guessed my pallet all the time. Second guessing yourself will often lead to mistakes and stress you out. Staying calm and collected is one of the hardest things to do, but it will show in your cooking. A dish cooked by a person who’s stressed out will look and taste different than that cooked by a calm cook.
I see it a lot at school. Something goes wrong when someones cooking a dish, they stress out get frantic and completely soil there food. What I’ve learned is, when something goes wrong you have to fix it and if necessary re-purpose the dish. It takes time to get good at it, but not getting frantic when something goes wrong is a lifesaver and will make you a more confident cook. A cook whom is more confident in their ability will cook better and most likely cook more frequently.
Yes dreams, not ambition, but dreams at night. Most people tell me they dream about what they want out of life, or a sunny day at the beach. When I go to sleep at night I have dreams about cooking. Almost every night I dream about cooking something or getting yelled at by a famous chef.
For example, last night i had a dream about breaking down chickens. I’ve been breaking down quite a few chickens as of late, because I have to do it with a time limitation for a competition I’m doing. I’ve been having this dream a lot recently its actually amusing. A lot of the time when I’m excited about a recipe I have to make the next day I have a dream about it the night before. A few times I’ve actually had a dream about making the recipe and something went wrong and I figured out how to fix it due to the dream.
Another common type of dream Is the being a chef and yelling at people dream, or the getting yelled at by a chef dream. I really don’t know why, but I’ve been yelled at by Gordon Ramsey several times in dreams of mine. It’s an amusing dream to have for some reason.
The most common culinary dream I have is about a knife cut. The dreaded tourine. It’s essentially a 7 sided football cut of a baby red potato. It’s a really annoying cut to do well. Dreams about doing 50 pound bags of them. Culinary students have a lot of strange dreams.