Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cool Tools 2

In my August 2011 post, Cool Tools, I wrote about digital scales, a remote digital thermometer and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.  I've since discovered another indispensable McGee book and an infrared thermometer.  Chris gave me the thermometer warning I should not let my non-stick pans exceed 400 degrees F.  Umm... that seemed a bit intuitive, and I wasn't sure why I really needed a thermometer for this.  Then I came across Harold McGee's Keys for Good Cooking.  While On Food and Cooking focuses on the science and why of cooking and cooking ingredients, Keys for Good Cooking gives practical advice on getting food from the market  to the table with countless tips and explanations of processes (for example, Browning)  and food safety (for example, pastuerized eggs).  Alice Walters is quoted on the back cover, " 'This book is a vital reference tool for all who love food and cooking - a book to read cover to cover, and then keep, dog-eared on the kitchen counter.'" I agree.  I realized a loaner would not suffice. When I had to return this book  to the library, I ordered my own copy.

And, yes, Keys for Good Cooking also describes and then gives uses for the infrared thermometer:

"Infrared, noncontact, point-and-shoot thermometers measure the infrared radiation emitted by an object's surface.  They're moderately expensive, very fast, accurate and require occasional checking." (1)

 On non-stick pans, McGee advises:

     "Read pan instructions carefully for safe temperature limits.  Teflon and related fluorocarbon coatings decompose into toxic gases at temperatures above 500 degrees F/260 degrees C. Silicone degrades in the same temperature range, but without releasing toxic gases. Newer composite ceramic-silicone surfaces are safe to 800 degrees F/430 degrees C." (2)

To prevent sticking, he advises preheating the pan before adding oil:

     "To minimize sticking on a pan without a nonstick surface, preheat the pan without cooking fat or oil. Use clarified butter, which contains non-stick materials naturally, but only at low frying temperatures.  Dry food surfaces thoroughly  or coat with flour or breading.  Don't try to lift the food until it has had time to develop a brittle crust.  Turn and lift using a spatula with a sharp metal edge that can slip under the crust."(3) 

McGee expands on each of these instructions including,

     "Heat the pan on a moderate burner without oil to 350 to 375 degrees F/175 to 190 degrees C. Verify the temperature with an infrared thermometer, or with a drop of water that should skitter on the surface before it boils away. Add oil or fat to coat the pan surface, where it should ripple with the heat.  If frying on lower heat with unclarified butter, add it to the cold pan and heat until it stops frothing and becomes fragrant, around 300 degrees F/150 degrees C. Add the food and keep the burner on high to restore the pan's heat as it's lost to the food." (4)

And if one needs guidance in how to clarify butter, as well as a safe procedure for doing so, this can be found in the MILK AND DAIRY PRODUCTS SECTION:

    "To clarify butter, heat gently until the melted fat stops bubbling, an indication that the water has been cooked out.  Lift off the protein skin at the surface and pour the yellow fat off the white protein residue at the  pan bottom.  To make ghee, or brown or black butters, continue the heating until the protein residue browns less or more deeply.
     Beware of eruptions when clarifying or melting butter, and use low gentle heat.  Because water is heavier than fat, it sinks to the container bottom as butter melts.  If the heat is too high, either from a burner or in the microwave, the water can suddenly boil, turn to steam, and explode through the hot fat above it.
     Use clarified butter or ghee for most sauteing, when the pan gets hot enough to brown or scorch milk residues.
     Use whole unclarified butter for gentle frying of eggs and fish.  At frying temperatures under 300 degrees F/150 degrees C, the emulsifiers in whole butter help prevent these delicate foods from sticking to the pan." (5)

The above excerpts are good examples of  McGee's easy to access format. I'm sure a few more of McGee's useful tips and comments will be found in future posts, but this will still be only the tip of the iceberg of information contained in this over 500 page resource which concludes with an excellent bibliography, WHERE TO FIND MORE KEYS TO GOOD COOKING.

1  Page 45
2  Page 60
3  Page 90
4  Page 91
5  Pages 202 - 203

   

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