Welcome to Jason's Incomplete Cooking Course.
This isn't a terribly difficult course and there aren't any
tests except whether you can eat whatever you create.
I don't have many rules for cooking, except that I don't
really believe in garlic powder.
Of course, anyone who has seen me cook (or listened to me
watch them cook) knows I am terribly idiosyncratic and turn my
nose up at perfectly acceptable ways of mutilating food. Unless
you are on a low-sodium diet, please take anything you disagree
with with a grain of salt.
- The first thing you need to know is that you don't need
to know what you are doing. You don't even need other
people to think you know what you are doing. The only
important thing is having an idea what is possible to
accomplish given your available ingredients and
- Don't kill your vegetables. Just because they aren't
still on the plant doesn't mean they don't still have
some life in them; and there is nothing worse than eating
- To reduce panic, prepare as much as you can before
turning on a single burner. That means you should chop
everything up first, and then heat the pan. The only time
this is not the case is when you need boiled water, i.e.
for hard pasta or dried soaked beans, in which case you
can boil the water (and cook the beans) while you are
chopping up your vegetables and garlic/onions/etc.
tend to take a bit of a risk now, since I prepare lots of
dishes that require a very hot pan in order to be
successful (chinese dishes, for instance)... Once I've
got the major ingredients chopped, or if I'm only cooking
a very simple dish, I will preheat my pan pretty early.
- Tips for Preparing
- Remove a couple of garlic cloves from your head
of garlic. Place them on a breadboard. Take a
flat-bottomed glass or the flat side of a knife
and smash each garlic clove into the breadboard.
The skin should be easily removable. Cut the
rough end of the garlic off. Turn the clove so
that the rounded edge is touching the breadboard,
then slice lengthwise down the middle of the
clove. If there is a green line running through
the middle of the clove, remove it. Then chop the
garlic into itsy-bitsy little pieces.
- Take a knife. Cut off the rough bottom of the
leek. Guide your hand along the leek, from the
bottom up, until the leek starts to become green.
If it is just a light green, keep on going. You
will find that the green part is somewhat thicker
than the light-green part. Leave about 3 cm
(1") of the dark green part, but cut off the
rest. You can throw it away unless your recipe
actually calls for it. Cut the leek in half
lengthwise. Fan the leek under cold, running
water on both sides. If the leek is particularly
muddy, you may need to separate each of the
layers and wash them in a bowl or individually.
- To peel: boil some water. After the water comes
to a rolling boil, drop your tomatoes in, one at
a time. Wait until you see that the skin of the
tomato has split open, then stab it with a fork
or knife, remove it from the water, and place it
into a bowl of cold water to stop it from cooking
and to make it easier to handle. If you weren't
thinking ahead, you could turn on the cold water
faucet in your sink and let the water run over
the tomato until it is cool enough to handle. The
peel will come off easily.
- To make popcorn on the stove, melt about 1-2
tablespoons of clarified butter or olive oil at
medium heat in a 2-quart (2 l.) saucepan, put a
single kernel of popcorn in it, and wait until
the kernel pops; add 2 ounces (40-50 g.) good-
quality popcorn and cover. Allow for the popping
to increase in frequency. When the popping slows down to less
than one pop every 3 seconds or so, remove from
heat completely; a few more kernels may pop. If
you want to add salt or other seasoning, do so
before the popcorn cools, otherwise everything
will sink to the bottom.
- Oils and Fats
- Clarified Butter
- Clarified has a higher burning point and a much
lower water content than normal butter. It is
approximately 99.8% fat, as compared to 80% in
plain butter. You can use it for pan-frying,
though it won't withstand the temperature
required for Chinese stir-frying; it also makes a
very good pie crust. If you still make popcorn on the
stove like I do, you can use clarified butter for
butter flavor without the likelihood of burning
- Olive Oil
- Extra-virgin olive oil is the
tastiest olive oil, and lends itself to any
raw-foods preparation such as salad. Don't waste
the taste on high-temperature dishes; use virgin
or something less extravagant. Extra virgin olive
oil has a lower burning point than it's
lower-quality cousins and does not lend itself
for high-temperature sautéing. If you do a
European-style sauté, you can get away with it;
it also works in roux sauces.
- Sesame Oil
- Sesame oil comes in two varieties. Middle Eastern
shops sell a yellow variety that may be difficult
to distinguish from rapeseed oil and has little
special flavor to justify the price. Asian sesame
oil is made by extracting oil from roasted sesame
seeds and has a fantastic flavor. Sometimes
sesame oil is sold combined with chili oil and is
Sesame oil lends itself to
low-temperature cooking or can be sprinkled on
finished dishes for added aroma. It has a very
low burning point. I know a recipe for a Japanese
pickle that uses roasted sesame oil in sautéing,
but this is done at a relatively low temperature.
Usually, sesame oil is added to Chinese or
Japanese dishes in the final stages of cooking,
adding a beautiful aroma and taste.
- Most vegetables other than salad greens lend
themselves well to pan frying. The trick here is
to determine the right order for placing
ingredients in your pan. If you want to cook a
chinese-style dish, you will need to heat your
pan up to a high temperature. When it is hot
enough, sprinkle a few drops of water onto the
pan will result in dancing around and rapid
evaporation. add an oil such as safflower,
peanut, or even olive
oil, and let it heat to a high temperature.
As a general rule, the following guidelines will
be successful, but there is room for variation:
After the oil becomes very hot, add a couple of
tablespoons of strong-tasting vegetables, such as
minced garlic, ginger, galangal, onions, spring
onions, leeks, or sichuan ja tsai pickles. Then
add mushrooms, if you're using them. Add any
vegetables that require braising, such as
broccoli, bamboo shoots, or cauliflower. Add
vegetables that require little cooking, such as
mung bean sprouts, at the very end. The whole
process should generally take only a few minutes,
less if you have no hard vegetables. (This
section is just on the technique; Information on
flavoring is forthcoming in a future section).
- Most vegetables other than roots and tubers only
need a few seconds of boiling time. When done
properly, boiling can bring out the beautiful
color of a vegetable in less time than steaming.
And, when done briefly, the nutritive properties
of the vegetable are still retained.
vegetable is "done" when its best
properties have been brought out--not when it is
mushy. Boiling does soften the vegetables, but
the point is not to kill them.
Many Japanese dishes require boiling of
vegetables in water before further handling. This
is done very quickly and sets the color of the
vegetable. In order to stop further cooking, the
vegetables should be submerged in cold (ideally
iced) water immediately after removing from the
pot. It may be easiest to accomplish this if you
place the vegetables into the pot (and then into
the cold water) using a metal strainer. Remember
to have the water boiling before placing
the vegetable in it.
- Leafy vegetables such as spinach usually only need about
15 seconds. In fact, with something as thin as spinach, I
pretty much submerge in the boiling water and call it done. Remove
quickly and submerge in ice water to set
- Thinly-sliced carrots, Chinese peas:
About 15 seconds. 30 if you like them
- Cauliflower and broccoli: About 30
seconds, maybe a tad less. I like them
crunchy. I will often cook cauliflower
longer than I would for broccoli,
- Fresh green beans need several minutes,
but should not be made mushy. If you want
mushy, buy a can.
- Small potatoes need about 25-35 minutes
if the water is boiling when you place
them in the pot. Use as small amount of
water as reasonable or you will lose many
of the valuable nutrients.