Chef Paul's Tricks of the Trade

Chef Paul cooking up flames

While he is dangerous in the kitchen, Chef Paul can provide some helpful culinary tips. Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Discover some quick and easy cooking tips from Chef Paul. If you want a topic covered in "Tricks of the Trade," just ask Chef Paul. Don't worry.... We'll make sure that Chef Paul, not "Chef" Tom, responds!

Blackening

When making a blackened fish or pepper-crusted fish or steak dish, sear or grill the peppery spice crust over high heat so that the pepper “blackens” or toasts.  This softens the heat of the pepper and makes the spice mixture take on a nutty, rich warm flavor.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Chef Paul might describe the flavor as nutty, rich and warm but I guarantee it will be hot, hot and hot!

Breading

When you bread a protein or vegetable, coat the product first with seasoned flour.  Then dip it into the egg mixture before coating it with breadcrumbs.  This process will make the “breading” stick to the protein or vegetable and it will also help create a crispy barrier to seal in the juices of the breaded item.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: It also will add several calories to the dish, but why not live on the wild side?

Casserole

When you are making a casserole, sauté the vegetables and make the sauce for the dish in the same sauté pan. It will allow you to capture the flavor of all of the ingredients by deglazing them, or dissolving them, from the bottom of the pan.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: When your significant other asks you to wash the casserole pan, allow it to soak for at least an hour before scrubbing!

Clarifying Butter

Clarifying butter is a simple process of purifying butterfat. First, melt butter in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat or in a microwave. This will suspend the curd and whey sediments contained in the butter. Next, skim the curd from the surface. When all the curd is removed, ladle off the melted butter into another container, leaving the milky liquid, the whey, at the bottom of the saucepan. Clarified butter has a higher smoke point, making it less likely to burn when sautéing. It is also used when making roux and sauces.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Do you really want to mess with curds and whey?

Flambéing

When you are going to flambé a dish, always add the liquor after removing the pan from the flame. Place the pan back on the burner, and the liquor will ignite or “flame” in the pan, not in the bottle or on your hand.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Following Chef Paul’s advice should free one hand for the fire extinguisher.

Fresh Garlic

When cooking with fresh garlic, try letting it turn golden brown in the pan before adding the other ingredients to the dish. This can be accomplished over medium or high heat, taking about 1 to 1 ½ minutes longer than would be suggested in a recipe. It helps if you stir the garlic so it browns evenly. This softens the “sharpness” of the garlic and creates a nutty flavor and aroma (you can smell it as this happens) that seems to agree with friends and guests.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: If it doesn't agree with your friends and guests, we know who to blame.

Green Vegetables

If you want to serve them later and shorten the cooking time, prepare your green vegetables by cooking them in rapidly boiling water and then cooling them in ice water. The ice water will stop the cooking process so the veggies are just done, “al dente." The vegetables should be bright green and more of the natural nutrients should be captured.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Notice Chef Paul says "should" a lot.

Heavy Cream

Selecting heavy cream for whipping can be a tricky process. Heavy cream tends to be ultra-pasteurized, which makes it whip to a lower volume when the cream still has one month of shelf life. If you want to use heavy cream for icing, buy containers that are ready to expire. You'll get a really thick, fluffy finished product.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Buy some Cool Whip instead.

Lentils

Lentils are the only legumes (dried beans) that don't need to be soaked in hot water so that they cook properly.  Simply simmer the lentils gently (separately if using different varieties) so that they retain their shape and texture.  They have a much shorter cooking time than navy beans, black beans, etc.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: This is discriminatory. What about beans from the can?

Mashed Potatoes

Boil the potatoes until they are completely tender. Drain them and allow them to dry in the pot for one minute over the burner they cooked on. The burner should be turned off. This procedure will allow the starch in the potatoes to dry. The potatoes then will be ready to accept hot milk when they are whipped.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Forget the mashed potatoes and make French fries.

Pasta

Adding small shapes of pasta, like orzo or ditalini, will allow the pasta to cook in the dish, helping to thicken the sauce in the finished dish.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Can't you avoid this step by purchasing thick sauce?

Preserving Scrambled Eggs

Do you need to keep your scrambled eggs warm for a bit before service? Well, to keep the eggs from turning green, just add some citric acid, like orange juice, to the egg mixture before you cook the eggs. I suggest 1/4 cup of juice to 1 dozen eggs. This will work!

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Avoid this situation by eating the eggs immediately.

Prosciutto Ham

Always add prosciutto ham at the end of the cooking process for flavor. This will keep it from absorbing moisture and toughening.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: But what if we like our ham nice and tough?

Roux

When using a roux for thickening, cook the roux for about 4 minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly, to change the flavor of the flour from raw to toasted; this will make your finished dish less starchy tasting.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Can't you buy a roux?

Salmon

When working with salmon, remove the salmon skin and any dark flesh from the skin-side salmon. This will help to make the salmon less fishy when it is cooked.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Don't worry about the skin. It will fall off during the cooking process.

Sautéing

When sautéing fish or meat, lay the browned product on a sheet tray and finish cooking it in a 400° oven. If you do this, you won't have to worry about burning the product in the sauté pan, and the product will still quickly cook, sealing in the juices.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Pay Chef Paul to do this for you.

Seafood

Fresh tuna, salmon and trout have enough "fat" in them to create a pleasant "mouth feel" when they are prepared rare to medium rare. Leaner fish like haddock, sole and orange roughy need to be cooked until they just flake when pressed; undercooking them leaves a raw sensation and an unpleasant taste on the palate.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: There's always Long John Silver's.

Seasoning Chicken

Infuse your roast chicken by loosening the breast skin of the chicken and inserting the seasoning mixture under the skin. This will increase the flavor transfer to the meat and help to keep it moist during cooking.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Based on my own experience, following this "trick" might lead you wife to complain about too much seasoning!

Selecting Liqueur

When selecting a liqueur for cooking, use a real flavored product, for example, apple brandy instead of apple flavored brandy. While apple brandy costs more because it is made from apples, the flavor is concentrated and will not weaken when heated in a dish. Conversely, “flavored” spirits have artificial flavor added that can be destroyed by boiling, flambéing or baking.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: If we don’t drink, would apple cider do the trick?

Sour Cream

Always add sour cream to a sauce after the sauce stops boiling so that it doesn't curdle.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Can I use the premature inclusion of sour cream as an excuse for curdling tomato soup?

Storing Herbs & Spices

Store your dried herbs and spices in a cool dark place, away from the cabinets and cupboards directly over your oven. Also, keep the herbs and spices shielded from daylight. Exposure to heat causes the oil in herbs and spices to break down which produces a loss in flavor. Yes, a spice rack is a nice display, but sunlight and ultraviolet light can hurt the taste of what is inside the rack!

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Finally, a good excuse to throw out one of those wedding presents.

Sustaining Apples

Peeling and cutting apples into water to prevent browning is not recommended because you end up with soggy apples. If you know that your recipe uses lemon or sugar, putting either product onto the apples will do a better job of keeping them from browning. And you won’t have to worry about watering down their flavor!

"Chef" Tom's Thought: With a little sugar, those apples will taste a lot better too!

Thawing Meats & Poultry

Thaw meats and poultry gradually in your refrigerator. Letting them sit on the kitchen counter all day can create an environment for bacterial growth!

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Hey, even I knew that one!

Vanilla Bean

When you purchase a fresh vanilla bean, store it in a jar of granulated sugar. You will make vanilla sugar that can be used in a variety of dishes! When you use a vanilla bean in a liquid, split the bean lengthwise. This releases more of the scent of the bean. The center brown “seeds” of the bean also can be scraped out and added to the dish after you are finished cooking.

"Chef" Tom's Thought: Who purchases vanilla beans?