How to Outdo Every Cook in Your Family (And a Secret Ingredient You Can’t Forget…)
I grew up in a household where only the women were allowed to cook. Even today, it’s usually frowned upon for a man to cook anything that isn’t overly cooked BBQ on a propane grill, or something a 7-year old could reliably make in a crock-pot.
I had a rough go at learning how to cook for myself. For instance, I once started an oil fire in my kitchen as a 17-year old that left scars on my hands. Not knowing what to do, I threw the pan through a window, scarring my parents lawn and reconfirming their belief that men can’t cook.
But hey, live and learn, right? For those of us who never got to learn from out family’s the secrets of grandma’s to-die-for breakfast potatoes or cured ham, we have some catching up to do. This article is your guide to baffle your possibly also sexist family into jaw-dropping, mouth-watering silence at your newfound culinary prowess.
To begin, lets look at one of my dishes I make at home: potatoes bourgouignon. It is a vegetarian version of the classic French dish bouef bourgouignon, and there are lots of opportunities to learn about technique and method from this savory, hearty dish.
You will need:
- 6 medium sized golden potatoes
- 1 large red onion
- 5 tablespoons of garlic
- a large bouquet of thyme and rosemary (I will get to that in a second)
- 1 large can of peeled whole tomatoes
- 4 table spoons of butter
- 2 cups of cabernet sauvignon
- 2 cups of vegetable broth
- 2 cups water
- 2 tablespoons of red-wine vinegar
- 3 whole carrots; washed, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon seasoned pepper*
- 2 teaspoons of salt*
- 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon of dried basil
The recipe itself will be right after our quick intro to rules in cooking.
Rule #1: There is a reason Jesus turned water into wine.
Wine is your best friend. If you’re not 21, figure it out. In this one instance I think your family will understand you using some of Dionysus’s gift to the world. Just don’t drink it, I guess. But definitely get it.
Alcohol cooks off when simmered at a much faster rate than water, so when making a broth, I combine about a 1:2 ration of wine to stock and reduce by about 15%. However, I like the rich and sweetening body of wine a lot in my stews and chowders, so I go heavy. This gives you not only a thicker, fattier sauce (fat = flavor, sorry health nerds) but it also allows for your other ingredients to combine, or muddle flavors as the alcohol bonds fat and water to enhance their presence in a dish.
The wine you want to use will vary on your recipe. The general rule pork/ beef will use red, and chicken/ fish will use white. We are cooking the basis of a beef recipe, so we are using cabernet.
It is also important to note that no, not all of the alcohol will evaporate out of the dish. Typically though, only about 20% of your alcohol will remain after simmering for an hour. For a bottle of 12% abv cabernet, you’re looking at about the amount of alcohol left in the dish as a single glass of wine.
Rule #2: Don’t f**k up your aromatics.
Seriously, do not. Aromatics are richly scented, thickly flavored combinations of oils, fats, and herbs used to begin a dish. Ruining them will ruin your dish.
Oils and fats have what is called a smoke point. This is where your oil starts to smoke, or a better way of saying it: BURNS. So how’d I start that oil fire when I was 17? Didn’t pay attention to smoke points. Also, it makes the oil taste burned, even if you don’t start a fire.
Not all things cook at the same paces. Therefore it’s important to plan how you’re going to add the ingredients one at a time. The oil serves to first caramelize your harder, more heartier aromatics such as onion and shallot. Once they have sweated, or turned mostly translucent, you can add your more fragile ingredients. Finely diced garlic, herbs, and ground spices need to be carefully watched.
Because the smaller chopped things cook so fast, you need to have your liquids on hand to combine quickly. In our case this is the diluted broth and wine. Doing this properly will cease the caramelizing and begin the combining process, and those flavors begin to ooze with the booze.
Rule #3: Garlic is more important than you are: the SECRET INGREDIENT!
This is the secret ingredient. As far as food that Americans are used to calling “delicious” goes: it’s not so much the cook, but the garlic.
Make sure you treat garlic as though it means more to this world than you do. Trust me, you shall be greatly rewarded. Garlic cooked properly looks lightly caramelized, isn’t blackened or browned at all, and puts off a beautifully rich, vampire-frightening aroma.
When garlic enters the pan, it’s usually just about time to “deglaze,” which I’ll hit on in a second. This is super important, as deglazing too early will have you with bitter, astringent raw garlic floating around your dish. Too late, and you have dry, nasty bitter carbon. It’s important to pay close attention, pretty much more attention, to this herb than anything else for this basic cooking technique.
So, what’s deglazing?
Rule #4: Deglazing sounds cool, and makes you look cool.
It’s true, but it’s also extremely important. Deglazing is when you take a cold astringent (fancy word for alchohol) or liquid in general, and add it to a hot pan. This rejuvenates and brings up the “fond” left on the pan from fatty-rich oils and moisture drying onto the pan. It’s all that brown stuff you probably notice.
Well, that brown stuff is hella important and super delicious, if you treat it right. To get the fond back into the game, we will typically use either a cooking wine or a vinegar to do it. The alcohol helps bind moisture and, like salt, enhances your sensitivity to taste and smell. This means that you’re essentially improving on the natural tastiness of the oils and herbs.
When using alcohol though, make sure to remove the pan from heat to avoid flames. Unless you’re going for a cool looking flambé, then have at it.
Rule #4: Bouquets aren’t just for flowers
Fresh herbs are best, but unless you have time to pick tiny leaves from expensive bushes all day, maybe that’s not for you. Instead, take a few sprigs of herbs, such as the rosemary and thyme we’ll be using, and tie them together with twine.
For me, I use about 6-8 good sized sprigs of thyme, and 4-5 good thick-leafed sprigs of rosemary. Bind them together, set, and forget! This keeps tons of small, bitter sticks and loose leaves from floating around. It also makes for very easy removal when they’re done steeping.
Putting these ideas to WORK!
- Take your pot and add the olive oil. Turn the heat to medium-high and wait until it simmers. Then add onion and carrots. Sear until the onion begins to turn slightly translucent.
- Once the onion is sweated, pitch the garlic and put the thyme/ rosemary bouquet garni on one side of the pan. Rotate the bouquet so that all of it eventually is touched by oil.
- Once the garlic is carmelized, deglaze with red wine vinegar. Make sure to try and get all of the fond up the best you can, for one minute.
- Add two cups of wine, and two cups of water/ vegetable broth mixture. We will slowly add the rest of the broth over the next 30 minutes. Do not boil; leave on a gentle simmer.
- Add chopped potatoes, and tomatoes. Combine all seasonings EXCEPT the butter, adding seasoned pepper and salt to taste. Stir well.
- Once evenly stirred, place the butter on the edge of the pan near the bouquet of thyme/ rosemary. Regularly stir the pot so the butter evenly folds in.
- Every ten minutes, add 1/3 the remaining water/ broth mixture. Once fully added, simmer 10 more minutes.
- Take from heat. It is best to let this coddle in the fridge for 12 hours for the best flavor, but is still good fresh from the stove. Let rest 5 minutes. Remove the bouquet, then serve with buttered bread.
Did you try this recipe? Did it work for you? Did your family finally tell you that they love you because you have a use to them now? Let me know in the comments.