24 Things I Learned at Sur La Table’s Cooking Classes
This week my wife, Renee, and I have been enrolled in the introductory Kitchen Essentials class at Sur La Table here in Portland, Oregon. I know what you’re thinking– that this was a vaguely camouflaged way of ensuring a week of good lunches for myself, but I’m here to tell you that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a week of good lunches. Many thanks to Sur La Table, Lisa Owens, Ryan Kennedy, and Graham Turner– and not just because they also cleaned up! You want to take your cooking class from a lead instructor like Lisa, who admits to reading sauce books in bed at night.
While knife skills, perky little chef tricks, and other general info garnished (er, I mean, garnered) from the class have been cool to learn and fun to practice, the main advantage of the class comes in the form of tiny morsels of delicious information that the casual cook is unlikely to learn unless he’s married to a food scientist. Here are the top things I hope to remember if I ever happen to show up in my own kitchen to cook something. Forgive me if any of these are already obvious to you– and if that’s the case, I’m available for dinner on Friday night.
1. Add salt to stop something from burning.
2. Take a pot off the stove grate even after you’ve turned the flame off, unless you want the heat from the grate to continue to cook whatever’s in the pot.
3. When making stock, use cold water and bring the temperature of it up; if you want clear stock, don’t let it boil.
4. Even if you’ll be serving skinless chicken breasts (though why would you?), cook with the skin on and remove later. The skin will act like a little tarp over the meat and keep it moist.
5. Don’t follow a recipe that tells you to chop cranberries by hand. Use a food processor– it’s the 21st century.
6. Recipes are suggestions. If you think of a better way to do something, do it that way. Except if you are baking.
7. Rest your meat when it comes out of the oven. It’s stressed from the heat and needs to relax before being carved and served.
8. Do not be afraid of the chicken.
9. More finely chopped garlic will be more bitter.
10. Sugar will cook egg yokes, so when making creme brulee (yes please!) don’t let the sugar sit in the egg before you’re ready for it.
11. Freeze butter and flour you’re going to use to make dough.
12. Spread sauteed vegetables or anything else that you want to cool up the sides of a bowl to cool faster.
13. Good olive oil is for finishing. Olive oil is for cooking.
14. Vanilla bean paste, as opposed to vanilla extract, will suspend the the vanilla in whatever you’re using it in, rather than allowing it to settle to the bottom.
15. To move thin dough roll it up on your rolling pin, carry it where you need it, and unroll.
16. Unless you are a deer, most of the salt in your diet comes from processed foods, not from the salt you add during cooking.
17. Always pound chicken in a Ziplock or plastic wrap.
18. Olive oil isn’t good for frying anything because its smoke point is too low. Adding olive oil to butter allows you to cook with butter at a higher temperature.
19. Take off your apron and name tag before entering the retail store at Sur Le Table or customers may ask you questions as if you know something.
20. Drain all the liquid out of the mushrooms or they will weigh down the souffle.
21. After carmelizing the creme brulee crust leave it out of the fridge or it will absorb moisture and liquify.
22. According to Lisa Owens, “The egg is the most amazing thing in the world.”
23. The asparagus will tell you where it is freshest.
24. An emulsion allows opposites, such as oil and water, to merge. That’s why you use the emulsion known as mustard in salad dressing.