Monday, March 19, 2007

Good Eats Cooking School Basics: Cooking Methods

My boss seems to have gotten himself hooked on a couple of Food Network shows lately: Good Eats, and Iron Chef America. In fact, I've been letting him borrow my Good Eats DVD's, and he's been tearing through them like a man possessed. As I arrived to work this morning and was getting set up for the day, he asked me a question. Are there any Good Eats episodes that cover cooking school basics? It was an interesting question, and while a couple of episodes immediately sprung to mind, I knew that there were several.

My first step was to head over to the episode guide on the Good Eats Fan Page. As I perused the episodes, I started to categorize some of the episodes. As it turns out, much of my first 6 weeks of cooking school has been covered by Alton Brown. While nothing (and I mean nothing) will ever take the place of hands-on training by seasoned chefs, there are a few episodes that will help out a lot. In fact, if you're planning on signing up for cooking school, I highly recommend you check out these episodes first.

In this post, I will list some episodes that cover the basic cooking principles: roasting/baking, grilling/broiling, steaming, poaching, sautéing, pan frying, deep frying and braising.

Yes, roasting and baking are exactly the same cooking method. The difference is that baking usually (but not always) refers to breads and such, and roasting refers to pretty much anything else, primarily meats and veggies. If you're cooking it in an oven, then you're using (at the very least) the baking/roasting method. And I don't know that any episode covers this method better than Celebrity Roast. While the recipe itself is a standing rib roast, he covers all sorts of angles as to how it works from a scientific standpoint, and how to get the best performance out of your oven.

Grilling is another basic cooking method with another name: broiling. The difference? Grilling has the heat coming up from the bottom, and broiling has it coming down from the top. Other than that, they are the same method, based on radiant heat from one side. While you might think that Grill Seekers sounds like the perfect name for a grilling episode, it actually used the grill to perform the roasting method. It does have a killer discussion of charcoal, however. Chops Ahoy, on the other hand, was in my opinion designed to teach you about the grilling method, including a discussion of natural gas grills. If there's any confusion about broiling, I suggest you check out Deep Purple, which features a fine demonstration of broiling, even referring to the broiler as an upside-down grill.

An unlikely-seeming episode that covers the steaming method is The Pouch Principle. One might think that pouch-based cooking (such as fish en papillote) is a baking method, but I beg to differ. When you enclose a food like that in a pounch, the steam escaping from the food is also enclosed, which causes the food to steam itself. Not good enough? Check out Crustacean Nation II: Claws for further discussion of the steaming method, as applied to lobsters. For a more scientific discussion, I recommend Wonton Ways.

In an act of basing an entire episode around a cooking method, rather than a speficic ingredient or dish, Alton Brown has given us Mission: Poachable. This isn't just basic cooking school stuff. I used one of the recipes (Catfish au Lait) for one of my first projects in cooking school. A scientific discussion of poaching principles is discussed, and he even covers another basic principle that we learned in those first six weeks of school: court bouillon. He also teaches the perfect poached egg, in roughly the same manner as my own chef instructors used.

A lot of people don't realize the difference between sautéing and pan-frying, but there is one, and it largely involves the amount of fat used. While a scientific explaination is lacking in this episode, The Fungal Gourmet does explain in layman's terms exactly what it means to sauté, and provides an excellent demonstration. But to really understand the difference, it helps to compare a demonstration of the sauté method with a demonstration of...

Pan Frying
Yes, there is a difference. You can see a lovely demonstration of this in several episodes, but the earliest is Hook, Line and Dinner. As you will see, a good deal more fat is used with this cooking method than with sautéing. In fact, while sautéing seems to be designed for looking cool while tossing veggies in a pan, if you try it with the pan-fry method, there will likely be kitchen fires and/or severe burning.

Deep Frying
Another episode that has been based entirely on a cooking method, Fry Hard brings us back the realm of scientific explanations. A lot of people don't realize that there is a difference between pan frying and deep frying. They just think that frying is one cooking method. This episode provides an excellent discussion of what deep frying is, how it works, why it works poorly sometimes, and how you can make it work well for you. When I was in cooking school, I even loaned a copy of the Cable in the Classroom version to my nutrition instructor, who showed it to our class.

This is an odd method, since it usually involves at least one other cooking method (usually baking). It's kind of like pan frying, at a lower heat, and with something other than oil, such as some kind of sauce. It's really good for long, slow cooking times, and for meats that have a lot of connective tissue to be broken down. My first experience with this was a braciole from Fit to be Tied, which again, I used for a practical exam in cooking school. A lot of people really like the example in Pork Fiction as well.


  1. Oh man. I don't know how I forgot braising. It's fixed, man.

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