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Master Chef 102: Blanching

Blanching or par-cooking is a technique where you get a pot of salted boiling water, drop the food in for a few seconds to a minute. Then remove and cool down immediately. 

This works great for those who don't want to eat microwaved food and want to save a few minutes at the end of a long work day to prepare dinner.  The technique works well for incorporating vegetables for omelettes and salads to cutting down on cooking time for stir frys.

You could theoretically do this for protein as well so long as you're able to prepare the chicken later on that same day. You run the risk of more food borne illnesses by heating, cooling and reheating meat. 

Here's an easy recipe for Beef with Broccoli

  • 1 pound flat iron steak, cut into 1x1 cube (flank steak, skirt steak or hanger steak may be substituted, but won't be as tender) 
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Chinese rice wine (Balsamic vinegar or dry sherry work as well)
  • 2 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 scallions, greens and whites sliced. 
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound bite-size broccoli florets, from about 1-1/2 pounds broccoli crowns
  • 1/3 cup water
  1. Combine the beef with 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of the Chinese rice wine (Balsamic or dry sherry) in a bowl and toss to coat. Let marinate for 30 minutes at room temperature while prepping everything else. 
  2. Bring a bot of water to a boil, salt the water. (Note: salted water should taste like the sea, applies to cooking pasta or blanching vegetables)
  3. Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of soy sauce with the corn starch and stir with a fork until the corn starch is dissolved. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of wine, oyster sauce, chicken broth, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir and set aside. 
  4. Combine the scallion whites, garlic and ginger in a bowl and set aside.
  5. By now the water should be boiling, drop the broccoli in to blanch for 1 minute or so. You'll know it's done when the broccoli is bright green and still crunchy. Remove from the pot and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. 
  6.  Heat a pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Add half of the beef, so that it is in a single layer, and cook without moving until the beef is well seared, about 1-1/2 minutes. Continue cooking while stirring until the beef is lightly cooked but still pink in spots, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. 
  7. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the remaining beef and cook without moving until the beef is well seared, about 1-1/2 minutes. Add the scallion whites, garlic and ginger mixture and cook, stirring constantly with the beef, for about 30 seconds.
  8. Add in the broccoli and the other half of the beef to the pan along with the sauce and scallions and mix thoroughly, simmer until the sauce is lightly thickened. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with rice. (Note: If the sauce is too runny, remove the beef and continue to reduce) 

Master Chef 101: Prep

The french have a term "Mise en place" meaning everything in it's place. When reading any recipe, you need to be sure to dice all the onions, measure out the broth and clean/devein the shrimp. There's a reason why restaurants hire people only for prep work, which is one of the most important positions in the kitchen. 

Cooking begins with prep!

Some of the things I'll cover here are:

  • Fabricating a chicken
  • Cutting onions (technique can be applied to garlic, shallots, etc)
  • Preparing lettuce for salad
  • Using a chicken carcass to make chicken stock

Fabricating a Chicken

Why it's important:

  • You get more bang for your buck. 
  • Learn to not waste a single thing
  • Learning how to render down and make your own stock

You can see the 3 points all come down to making your dollar stretch, and who doesn't want to save money while eating better?!

Cutting an Onion

Why it's important:

  • Onions, garlic, and shallots are considered aromatics. There are a few more that fall into that category but I'll leave it to just those considering they're all shaped similarly. 

Preparing leafy vegetables

Why it's important:

  • Most people buy leafy vegetables only to forget about it in the crisper where it gets dry or in the plastic bag they bought it in and it gets all slimy. 
  1. Chop lettuce, spinach (if necessary) or remove stems from greens such as kale and chard.
  2. Wash greens.
  3. Dry using a salad spinner or using clean towels. 
  4. Once dry, store in containers or zip lock bags for easy use. 

Using a chicken carcass to make chicken stock

  • Most store bought stock ends up being high in sodium and nowhere near as flavorful as one you make yourself. 
  • Up your soup and sauce game by using your own stock. I should mention it's very easy to do, get one more use of that chicken carcass. 

Makes 1.5 to 2 litres white chicken stock:

  • 1 chicken, bones and carcasses, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 6 whole peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni (can include bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and garlic cloves.)
  • 2 to 3 litres water (enough to completely cover the bones)
  • 1 tbsp cooking wine (optional)

Note: One of the great things about stock is that this is where you can use things like the tops of celery, carrot skin (after it's washed of course of any dirt) and even garlic peel. This is because you're going to skim and filter everything out at the end!

  1. Chop the cooked chicken carcass, if uncooked. Heat a large heavy bottom pot with a little oil. Cook off the carcass until it appears cooked. Then deglaze the pan with the wine. Scrap the bottom with a wooden spoon. 
  2. Remove chicken, add in the mirepoix (french term for onion, celery, and carrots). Cook until translucent for a few minutes. 
  3. Add back in the chicken and add water. Add in the herbs and spices.
  4. Turn the heat up until you can start to see the water bubbling. Turn it down on low. Simmer for 6-8 hours. The longer the better really. 
  5. Every 15-30 minutes check on it to make sure it's not boiling over and skim off any of the impurities that rise to the top. This helps make a cleaner and clearer stock. 
  6. After simmering, pass the liquid through a fine mesh strainer. Cool immediately. 
  7. Skim off any extra fat and refrigerate. You can also portion it in smaller containers to freeze. Should hold for about 4-6 months.