Category — SECRET CHEF TIPS

{top tip} Risotto Tips from Italian Grannies

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

Have you ever made risotto with an elderly Italian woman? Be warned: she might yell at you for doing it wrong. Here are some things you can do to get top marks with the signoras!

  • In the first part of the process, toast the rice well in the olive oil before adding any liquid. The rice should be a nice golden brown before proceeding to the liquid phase.
  • You don’t have to heat the broth before adding it in. I swear. Don’t believe the broth-heating hype, you’re just making more work for yourself!
  • While Arborio rice is the commonly recommended risotto rice, many chefs and grandmas prefer Carnaroli rice – try it if you can find it.
  • If you’re adding things to the risotto, like sauteed vegetables or bacon or shrimp, cook them separately and fold them in at the very end.
  • Also: I once read that Thomas Keller folds whipped heavy cream into his risotto at the end, to finish it. I have tried that and it’s not worth the effort – a splash of unwhipped cream or a knob of butter does the trick just as well.

It bears noting that I don’t use a recipe to make risotto, and I don’t think you need to either. It’s one of my favorite things to make when I need to make a good side dish and I don’t want to go to the market, because you can add most anything to it. The whole process takes about 20-30 minutes, and shouldn’t be made ahead because it will ruin the texture.

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March 15, 2011   1 Comment

{top tip} All About My Butter

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

Butter! So many types of butter, all so very delicious. Here’s a little cheat sheet with butter terminology to help you sort out what the heck people are talking about.

First things first: this will make more sense if I tell you that butter is made up of 2 things: oil and milk solids. When you melt butter, the milk solids are the white foamy looking part and the oil is the clear yellow part.

  • Beurre à la Bourguignonne: A fancy term for garlic butter. You most often see this term used in regards to escargot–since they are traditionally served with this butter.
  • Beurre Blanc: French for “white butter,” a sauce made from vinegar, white wine, shallots, and butter, and often served with seafood. Everything but the butter is heated, and then the cold butter is carefully whisked in piece by piece, creating an emulsion. This makes a rich, satiny, tangy sauce.
  • Beurre Manié: Butter and flour that’s kneaded or mixed together and used as a thickener for warm sauces. The butter prevents the flour from forming lumps in whatever it is you’re thickening, and makes the sauce shinier.
  • Beurre Nantais: The same thing as beurre blanc, but with heavy cream added to it. (Note: YUM.)
  • Beurre Noir or Black Butter: Beurre noir is butter that has been melted over a low heat until the milk solids turn black–at which point an acid (usually lemon juice, sometimes vinegar) is added to stop the cooking. Commonly served with fish, especially skate wing. Not to be confused with brown butter.
  • Beurre Rouge: The same thing as beurre blanc, except made with red wine vinegar and red wine, which makes it (wait for it) red in color.
  • Brown Butter aka Browned Butter aka Beurre Noisette: Similar to black butter, brown butter is melted over a low heat until the milk solids turn brown and start to smell nutty. Commonly paired with sage, pumpkin or squash ravioli, or fish. Delicious on lots of things.
  • Butterface: A female who has an attractive body and an unattractive face. “She looks good everywhere… butterface.”
  • Clarified Butter: Butter that has been melted and the milk solids (white stuff) removed, so just the oil remains.
  • Compound Butter: Firm butter with stuff in it, like herbs or garlic or citrus zest. You make compound butter by softening butter, mixing things into it, shaping it into a log and wrapping it in plastic, then refrigerating it. When you have a round slice of garlic butter on your steak in a restaurant, that’s a compound butter.
  • Cultured Butter: Butter that has lactic acid cultures added to it or is made from fermented cream–giving it a tangier taste. Most butter in Europe is cultured.
  • Drawn Butter: The same as clarified butter, but for some reason when you serve it with lobster, it’s called drawn instead of clarified.
  • European Butter: Generally this means 2 things: that it has a higher butterfat content than U.S.-made butter (~85% compared to ~81%) and that it’s cultured. Sometimes it just means one or the other.
  • Ghee: Clarified butter that has been heated to preserve it longer without refrigeration; ghee is a common ingredient in Indian cooking.
  • I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter: Not butter. ICBINB is made with buttermilk, vegetable oil, water, and some chemicals and colorings.
  • Salted Butter: Butter that has had salt added to it.
  • Spreadable Butter: Usually this means the butter has vegetable oil incorporated into it, so that even when it’s cold it will spread easily.
  • Sweet Cream Butter: Butter that’s made from pasteurized cream–meaning, not cultured.
  • Whipped Butter: Butter that’s been mechanically aerated with nitrogen gas.

Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments!

March 8, 2011   2 Comments

{top tip} Save Your Money, Make Créme Fraiche at Home

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

Does it drive you mad when you have to buy créme fraiche for a recipe, and you find that it costs up to $7.99 for 7 ounce container? At over a dollar an ounce, you might as well be buying gold nuggets, or drugs. (Not really. Stay in school! Drugs are bad.) If you do a little planning ahead, you can make your own créme fraiche at home–at a fraction of the price. Lots of restaurants make it in bulk this way, because even at wholesale prices, créme fraiche can break a restaurant’s budget.

You need to do about 2 minutes of work and about 1-3 days of waiting (depending on how hot it is where you put it.) Here’s the skinny:

  • Put heavy cream in a container with buttermilk. Use 1 Tablespoon of buttermilk for each cup of heavy cream.
  • Cover tightly with plastic wrap and use a knife to poke holes in the plastic wrap.
  • Set the container up high and out of the way in your kitchen, where it’s warmer.
  • Check it the next day and stir it a few times with a spatula. If it’s not thick enough, let it go longer.
  • When it’s at your preferred consistency, put it in a container with a cover and store it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a couple of weeks!
  • Note: If you use ultra-pasteurized cream, vs. pasteurized, it will take longer for the process to occur.

March 1, 2011   4 Comments

{meeeeeeeeeaaaat} How To Cook Steaks On Your Stovetop That Taste Better Than in a Fancy Restaurant

Is there anything more satisfying than a perfectly seasoned steak cooked to your exact liking? For a meat-lover like me, there is not. Unfortunately it can be hard to get that steakhouse taste at home, unless you know a couple of culinary secrets. Here is my tried and true method for cooking steaks. Once you start making them this way, you will never go back to your old habits!

How To Cook Steaks On Your Stovetop That Taste Better Than in a Fancy Restaurant

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February 18, 2011   189 Comments

{top tip} How To: Make a Parchment Cake Circle With No Scissors

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

I used to shudder when a cake recipe said “line the bottom of the cake pan with a circle of parchment” because unless you’re a bakery you don’t just have differently sized circles of parchment in your life, so you have to trace one and cut it out and that’s just a drag. I’m trying to make a cake over here, not do a damn craft project. And then I went to pastry school and learned this trick of how to make a cake circle with no scissors or hassle. Totally worth the 30 grand or so. I mean I learned a few other things too, but this is one I use a lot.

Step 1: Rip off a square piece of parchment that’s a bit bigger than your pan. Fold the paper in half, then in half again. Keep folding it over itself along the same axis until it’s a skinny triangle, about 4 folds.

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August 26, 2010   2 Comments