Brilliant how-to video from the folks at Saveur!
A couple of months ago, I posted a story about making stuffed poblano peppers and how, after roasting the peppers in the oven to loosen their skins and then baking them with the stuffing, they had come out too soft. Shortly thereafter, a dear former colleague passed me a tip: put the peppers straight onto the stove-top burner, rotating it until all of the skin is charred.
I tried her method when I was roasting poblanos for a corn salad, and she’s right! It’s much faster — and probably more energy efficient as well.
I haven’t made those stuffed poblanos again yet and I must do it soon. They were tasty and if I can prevent the peppers from getting too soft, they might earn an A!
The New York Times columnist Mark Bittman — aka The Minimalist — has a great video on making Four-Spice Salmon. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write two posts — one on the matter of eating seafood and one on how to cook fish. So I’ll take Bittman’s video (which includes two tricks I use myself) as my excuse to write up my cooking tips. While Bittman pan fries his salmon in the video, my tips are geared towards roasting or grilling.
#1: Cook Individual Pieces: Cut the filet into individual portions before you cook it. Not only will it look nicer on the plate, but it will help you cook all the pieces evenly and make it easier to determine when the fish is done. If you’re cooking an uncut three-pound piece, it’s sooooo difficult to know when the thickest center pieces are ready.
#2: Use a spice rub: This is Bittman’s second tip and I second it. No I third it! In any case, I approve. In the video he mixes cumin, coriander, nutmeg and clove. Because I sometimes don’t have time to make my own spice mix, I’ve also bought them. My current obsession is Whole Food’s Tequila Lime spice mix, a combination of chili pepper, coriander, cumin, oregano, garlic, onion, parsley, lime and tequila. Or “tequila flavor,” at least. Bittman puts the spice mix on top of the fish. Why stop there? I smear the mix on all sides of the fish.
#3 Buy an oven thermometer: The oven gods are fickle and rarely heat the oven to the temperature that you set it for. An inexpensive thermometer will tell you your oven’s true temperature, helping you reach your pre-heating goal. And when it comes to cooking fish, you need to have confidence in your oven temperature so that you can be confident in your cooking time.
#4 Time It: Rather than going by the old “10 minutes per inch of thickness” rule of thumb, I recommend using a resource like Weber’s On the Grill app, which provides standard cooking times for different kinds of seafood (and meats as well). if you’re making tuna or salmon, which some people eat rare or medium rare, adjust the time to suit your taste. If the timer goes off and you’re not sure that the fish is really cooked through, take it out of the oven, cover it with tin foil and let it “rest” for 5 minutes. It will keep cooking but much more slowly than it would in the oven, so you’re not as likely to over-cook it by mistake.
Making vegetable stock often seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Yet the store-bought stocks tend to be too bland or too salty. (In How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman laments that he wanted to “include an appraisal of store-bought vegetable stocks, but … none is consistently good enough to recommend.”) So in cooking for The Professor, I’ve sometimes fallen off the vegetarian wagon and succumbed to low-sodium chicken stock. But I’m determined to find an alternative.
So consider this the first post in an ongoing exploration. Some experiments will be needed. And ultimately some taste testers. For the moment, I’m starting with a recipe for “The Ultimate Vegetable Stock” from the team of cooks and testers at Cooks Illustrated magazine and the PBS television show, America’s Test Kitchen. They set out to create “a nicely balanced, robust vegetable stock recipe that vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike would consider making” — a goal that lines up nicely with the focus of this blog.
The Cooks Illustrated team doesn’t just throw a few onions and celery stalks into a pot with water and let it simmer. The recipe calls for lots of ingredients — which you can see below, including some surprises like lemon grass, cauliflower, collard greens — and involves several steps.
It also involves more prep work than many stock recipes, as The Professor pointed out.
“You don’t have to peel the onions for a stock. Just chop them and throw them in the pot with the skins,” he offered, as he passed through the kitchen and saw me thinly slicing shallots. “That’s how the Barefoot Contessa does it.”
“Thanks,” I said, ignoring the advice as I continued slicing. Though I wondered if the Barefoot Contessa had it right. Would the recipe’s extra ingredients and additional steps be worth it? I’ll find out soon.
Note: Cooks Illustrated keeps cooking secrets like how to make vegetable stock behind a pay wall, but you can sign up for a free two-week trial to access the complete Ultimate Vegetable Stock recipe. In the meantime, here’s the list of ingredients:
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped coarse
10-12 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
8 large shallots, sliced thin
1 rib celery, chopped coarse
1 small carrot, chopped coarse
vegetable cooking spray
4 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and chopped (about 5 1/2 cups)
stems of fresh parsley from 1 bunch
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1 tsp black peppercorns, cracked
1 pound collard greens, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch strips
1 small head cauliflower
8-10 sprigs fresh parsley
1 stalk lemon grass, trimmed to bottom 6 inches and bruised
4 medium scallions, white and light green parts, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar