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The Cooked and the Done


Dave the Cook
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The other night, I was lucky enough to be treated to dinner at Serpas here in Atlanta. The meal had several highlights, but three days later, what I best remember is a potato. It was a red, cut in half and supporting two crossed trout filets. By the traditional measure, it was way overdone -- I'd guess a good fifteen minutes past the usual "stick a fork in it" guideline. How it maintained its structural integrity I'm not sure, but "overcooking" transformed an ordinary starch into something sublime: it was creamy and earthy in a way that boiled or steamed potatoes almost never are.

The point is that sometimes things aren't necessarily done when the typical conditions are reached. Pork shoulder, for another example, benefits from continued heat long after it's reached 160F (or even 175F or 180). Baking potatoes will improve if left in the oven for up to 30 minutes past the hour that most cookbooks will tell you it takes to reach the point of gentle resistance. The former is caused by the collagen stall; I'm not sure what accounts for the latter, and I discovered it through poor dinner-prep timing.

I'm sure these aren't the only examples. Enlighten me.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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I first learned that trick with the potatoes from Linda Carucci, former dean at California Culinary Academy. It works with any waxy potatoes you're roasting. Let them go about 20 minutes longer than you think you should and the insides turn creamy -- almost as if they're mashed.

Onions are another food that benefit from longer cooking than most recipes call for. I always see recipes for "caramelized" onions that call for cooking until they're light amber (the given times vary from 30 to 45 minutes) but I find that letting them go until they're a darker brown (anywhere from an hour to two, depending on the amount) results in a much deeper flavor and a texture that's practically melting.

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I think that this paper may have some relevance. Even though it refers to sweet potato. You could certainly say that a sweet potato is cooked when you could stick a fork in it, but it undergoes a very significant change when left that extra 30 minutes in the oven.

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The point is that sometimes things aren't necessarily done when the typical conditions are reached.

How about leftovers, after a cool night in the fridge, reheated the next day? Chili, lasagna, pot pie, et al.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I've often thought curries and soups taste better when you "cook" them, then cool them to room temperature, then bring them back up to a simmer again. It could just be my perception, but my Nanny always said a soup tasted too "fresh" if you had to serve it right away.

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I thought Richard Blais had an interesting comment after working with Bayless on TCM. He mentioned in making the mole the "beyond burned" concept and how significant it was to the flavor of the mole. Having made it myself I have to agree even though I was scared during the process.

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My impression is that, back in the day, almost all plant foods were overcooked to a point that would be considered inedible by modern standards. And, in reaction to that, the modern approach is to undercook almost all plant foods (vegetables, beans, lentils, etc.). Me, I think most plant foods taste better when cooked a bit past the modern preference. But there's some subtlety to it. In many cases, the best move is to start at a high temperature and then reduce the heat.

With potatoes, I like to bake them to standard doneness, then shut off the oven and let them sit for about half an hour with the door slightly ajar. This, I think, improves their texture and skin greatly -- if you have the time. For broccoli I like to bring it up to temperature in a saucepot with a small amount of water, cover, cook for about 5 minutes then turn off the heat and let it sit for another 10 or so minutes. This cooks the florets through without making them mushy and while preserving their color and flavor. Same with carrots. With beans and lentils, I like to cook them until al dente plain, let them cool, then cook them with the onions, seasonings, meat, stock, tomatoes, whatever. This seems to work better than cooking them straight through.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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