The March and June issues of Columbia Metropolitan Magazine presented collections of culinary tips, tricks, shortcuts, and secrets — valuable tidbits of basic information to enhance kitchen skills, solve problems, save time, and improve the outcome of prepared dishes.
This third installment focuses on practical kitchen wisdom for meats and seafood. It can help home cooks develop a keen sense of flavor and make culinary endeavors easier and more enjoyable.
Pat meats and poultry dry with paper towels before cooking to help with browning and to crisp up the poultry’s skin. Pat marinated fish fillets or steaks dry, then brush with oil before pan searing or outdoor grilling. Eliminating moisture allows better browning.
Thirty minutes before cooking, remove a quality, on-the-bone steak (1 to 1 1/2 inches thick) from the refrigerator; preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Season steak and sear in a very hot cast iron skillet over medium-high heat about 2 minutes per side. Transfer skillet to the oven; cook steak to desired doneness. Dry-aged beef has a richer flavor and is exceptionally tender.
Roasts and steaks continue cooking when removed from a hot oven. Test meat with a digital, instant-read meat thermometer; stop the cooking before it reaches the desired temperature. For a medium-rare roast (130 to 140 degrees F), remove meat from the oven at 125 to 130 degrees F. Remove steaks at 130 to 135 degrees F for medium rare.
Rest Period for Meat
Roasts and steaks benefit from a rest period after they are cooked. As “carryover heat” raises their temperature, their natural juices will be redistributed throughout. Tent the meat loosely with foil; allow 15 minutes for roasts and 5 minutes for steaks. The meat will be juicier and a lot tastier.
Health experts say the nutritional profile of grass-fed (and grass-finished) beef is closer to salmon than grain-fed beef. Before cooking, brush room temperature steaks with olive oil. The robust-flavored, lower-fat beef will cook about 30 percent faster and tastes best served rare to medium-rare. Grass-fed meat can be tenderized with a light marinade or with a Jaccard meat tenderizer.
Add moistness and additional flavor to lean, ground meat intended for hamburgers (such as grass-fed beef) by adding some chopped caramelized onions, roasted peppers, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, or sauteed mushrooms. Or stir in a little bacon jam or olivada (olive relish).
Herbal Basting Brush
Baste steaks, roasted meats, and poultry with an aromatic herb “brush” made by tying together a bunch of slightly crushed herb sprigs (like rosemary, thyme, and sage, or just a single herb). Dip the herb brush into olive oil or hot pan juices for basting. Chop the herbs for a sauce or gravy.
Speedy Grilled Ribs
Wrap racks of well-seasoned spareribs securely in heavy foil; bake at 350 degrees F for 45 to 60 minutes. Remove ribs from foil; cool 10 minutes. Finish cooking them on a hot barbecue grill 25 to 30 minutes; baste with sauce during the final 10 minutes.
Arrange bacon strips in a single layer on a heavy, rimmed baking sheet. Cook in a 375 degree F oven 18 to 20 minutes; rotate pan halfway through. Drain bacon on paper towels and then serve. The strips will be nicely shaped, evenly browned, and crisp. Convenient for serving two or 20. Note: Broiling bacon, especially on the top rack, can be a recipe for an oven fire.
For a main course, 4 to 6 ounces of fish per person is a reasonable amount. Increase to 8 ounces for larger appetites. Allow 8 ounces of shellfish per person.
Rinse fresh fish with cold water, pat dry, and seal it inside a heavy, zip-top plastic storage bag, pushing out the air. Keep fish cold, ideally with crushed ice, or surround it with disposable freezer gel packs. Store in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Replace thawed gel packs as necessary. Cook fish by the next day.
Refrigerate live seafood like mussels and clams in a large bowl insulated with damp newspapers to protect from too much cold; cover with a damp kitchen towel. Arrange oysters to lie flat so their briny liquid does not drain out. If a shell is not tightly closed, discard the (dead) oyster. Cook shellfish by the next day.
Purchase cedar cooking planks in markets and online, or DIY with untreated cedar or alder wood cut to an appropriate size. (Do not use toxic treated wood.) Soak planks for 2 hours in water brought to a boil; add peppercorns, herb sprigs, and a crushed garlic clove. Cooked in a covered grill, planked fish gains a wonderful smoky flavor and firm moist texture.
Stuck on Seafood
To prevent firm-fleshed fish fillets or fish steaks from sticking on a hot grill, bring them close to room temperature and brush with oil. Place diagonally on a seasoned grill, skin sides down; cover and slowly cook over medium heat. When the fish is three quarters of the way done and the skin lifts easily, turn fish over. Arrange skinless fillets on top of fresh lemon or orange slices to shield from the direct heat.
Woody branches of fresh rosemary make crafty, aromatic skewers for grilling shrimp and scallops and for cubes of firm fish, chicken, or lamb. Remove about 2 inches of leaves from the bottom of each skewer; trim to a point with a small, sharp knife. Flavor a marinade with some of the leaves, or reserve for other uses.