Normandie Kitchen

Shared food in a share house

Category: Basics

Browning meat

Browning meat is one really simple way of making a meal delicious. Instead of just dumping everything into a pot at once, and boiling it together, if you spend a few minutes reducing and browning your food, you’ll end up with something much richer and satisfying. This is the same logic for why you should brown your onions, or your soffritto. You can, of course, substitute MSG, soy sauce, stock cubes, cans of broth, or Vegemite to accomplish the same thing. But, really, it’s not much extra work to make your food taste great, simply.

browned_meat
Those crispy brown bits? What you see is flavour.

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Chiles

Chiles, or chilis (or chilli peppers, paprika, peppers) are fruit from plants in the genus Capsicum. Like other solanaceae (including tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants) they come in a bewildering variety of colours, shapes, and flavours. There are hundreds of distinct, named varieties of chile, used in countries all around the world — most often for the sensation of heat provided by the capsaicins in them; but also for their variety of sweet, fruity flavours. They’re eaten fresh, or dried; infused, powdered, smoked, pureed, or fried in oil.

fresh_chilis
A variety of fresh chiles, including anchos, New Mexico, jalapeños, serranos, and gueritos in a local market.

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Blanching

Blanching is a very common technique for preparing vegetables, but you can use it for meat, as well. It doesn’t involve much more than popping your food into boiling water for a minute or two, and then (usually) putting it immediately in cold, or iced water, to stop the cooking process.

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Chopping garlic

The method for chopping or mincing garlic is very similar to the way you chop, or dice, any vegetable. But there are a couple of little tricks that it’s worth learning, because garlic is so common in Asian, American, and Mediterranean food. You can buy bottles of pre-chopped garlic, but they aren’t nearly as good. You can use garlic powder, but that is vile. You can use a garlic press, but to be honest, they don’t actually make things any quicker or easier — and they’re a bastard to clean. Get a sharp knife, and learn how to use it.

finely chopped garlic

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Chopping vegetables

When chopping vegetables, please don’t start hacking away randomly, hoping for the best. It’s a sad truth, but chopping is pretty much the most important thing you can learn to do in the kitchen. Doing it right will save you time; a whole lot of pain, and blood; and will make your food cook, and taste better. It’s worth taking the time to learn how to do it efficiently and safely.dicing carrots Continue Reading

Soffritto (mirepoix)

The depth of flavour that is a hallmark of European cooking comes from cooking simple ingredients in ways that bring out their richness and flavour. Techniques like making a roux, and browning meat are simple, but doing it correctly makes all the difference between a good dish, and an indifferent one. One of the most basic processes for making French, Italian, or Spanish food, is to begin with a soffritto (or mirepoix, or refogado, or battuto). It’s a critical component of sauce espagnole, ragu, stock, or osso bucco.mirepoix

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Sesame

Sesame is one of the oldest cultivated plants, and is probably the oldest oil seed crop. It features prominently in cuisines from Greek to Arabic to Chinese to Japanese. It’s a versatile ingredient. The toasted seed is used in cooking, and baking; for sweet and savoury dishes. The oil is used as a seasoning. The paste is used as a thickening agent, or a sauce. sesame tahini oil Continue Reading

Soy sauce

Soy sauce is one of the most indispensable seasonings in Chinese, Korean and Japanese food; it’s popular across much the rest of Asia, and even the Americas. It is typically made with a combination of soy and wheat, and is either fermented or chemically processed. It’s typically distinctly salty, umami, with a fermented flavour. It is used in cooking, or as a table condiment. There are a large number of varieties and styles of soy sauce, some of them quite different.say_sauce Continue Reading

Sichuan pepper

Sichuan pepper (or Szechuan pepper, or Chinese prickly ash), is neither pepper nor exclusively from Sichuan province. There are a number of species in the genus Zanthoxylem that produce fruit that are commonly used for cooking; and it’s an important seasoning in food from Nepal to Japan (where it’s called sansho). The taste of sichuan pepper is characteristically numbing (in Chinese, it’s the ma in classic ma-la 麻辣, or numbing-spicy food). The flavour is often lemony, and even salty. There are a few things to consider when cooking with Sichuan pepper.sichuan_pepper

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