Normandie Kitchen

Shared food in a share house

Category: Techniques

Tempering spices

Tempering in oil is a traditional method of releasing flavour from whole spices, common in Indian cooking, whether to start a dish, or to finish it (as in a tadka). It’s easier than toasting and grinding, but it takes a little bit of nerve the first time or two, to heat the oil to sizzling, and cope with the spluttering an popping. The final product is worth it, though — throughly fragrant, intensely flavourful oil for cooking or serving.
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Roasting bones for stock

Flavourful brown stock, usually made with beef, veal, lamb, or turkey bones is one of the fundamentals of home cooking. It takes a little time, but not much effort. And roasted bone stock adds an immense amount of flavour — as an ingredient, or on its own, as a soup. Stock keeps well in the fridge, for about a week; or you can freeze little aliquots of it, and add it as needed.

Homemade brown stock is much better than almost anything you can buy in the store (some of which is offensively bland). And making your own is a great way to use every scrap of food. Never throw bones away! Keep them (freeze them) and make stock.


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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.

Those crispy brown bits? What you see is flavour.

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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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Browning onions

It’s pretty rare that you’ll want to throw raw onion (or garlic) directly into liquid to cook. In fact… pretty much, just don’t do that. Alliums (the onion and garlic family) taste far better when you cook them before adding them to soups or sauces — the rich, sweet taste of slow cooked, browned onions adds depth and fragrance. In some foods, like french onion soup, friggione, or mujadarra, the onions play a starring role. In others, like many north Indian curries, or some classic sauces, they provide a base for stronger flavours. The process takes a little bit of patience and care — but it’s simple. And definitely worth it.caramelised_onion


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Murdering vegetables

This is a common technique in Turkish and Eastern European cooking. I’m not completely sure about the phrase “murdered”, but several of my Turkish and Arabic friends have used it so I’ll follow suit. Once murdered, vegetables are softer (almost cooked), but still crisp; are typically less-bitter; and won’t leak water into the final dish. I’m going to be pedantic about the details, but rest assured the process is simple: chopping, salting, and squeezing. Rinse — done.

draining cucmbers

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Toasting spices

Toasted, and freshly ground whole spices provide a vividness and depth of flavour you can’t compare with. Roasting spices, is critical in Indian, Thai, and South-Mexican food. In fact, pretty much anything you cook will taste better with freshly toasted spice. It’s also more economical than buying ground spices. Whole spice doesn’t go stale and bland so quickly. On toasting, the chemical composition of spices changes as well, so you get more complex, and quite different, flavours than you do with raw spices.cumin and allspice


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