Updated: Oct 30, 2019
Welcome to the fifth installment where every Wednesday I explain everything that it takes to be a Chef in my eyes. This series will by no means be exhaustive, but I will certainly do my best. If you're a Chef and want to share your opinion I'd love to hear what you have to say. Aspiring Chefs: if you have questions feel free to reach out. I'm always looking for an excuse to talk food.
First: I'm going to ask a favor; When you're done reading this make sure to comment at the bottom. If you think I don't know what I'm talking about say so, heck share it with your friends and say "look at this guy calling himself a Chef, he has no idea what he's talking about." If you agree let me know, share it with your friends, you know how we like to see that other Chefs see the world similar to ourselves, get a good laugh out of it.
Ok so far in this series we have covered the importance of Passion as well as a commitment to quality in regards to your effort, a commitment to food quality and menu planning Today I will be talking about one of the fundamentals of being a Chef; temperature control.
Being able to control temperature as you might imagine is pivotal in the kitchen, but what if I told you that as important as you may think it is you're still vastly under-selling its importance? From grilling, to deep-frying, roasting and the temperature danger zone; temperature is what keeps it all together, oftentimes, literally.
Grilling, we all have some experience with grilling, but what if I said you're missing a wealth of opportunities on the table. A Chef needs to know how to keep their food from sticking to the grill. My best tip: have a towel wrapped in a tight bundle and dip in canola or vegetable oil, let the bundle drip away excess oil then run towel over hot grill grate. (WARNING: This tip is for professionals looking to step-up their game. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. FIRE IS EXTREMELY LIKELY ESP IF NOT TRAINED. We in no way accept responsibility should you try this). Now, what if I told you cooking different items on the grill should be placed in different spots on the grill. For instance: if I'm cooking a pork-loin I'd put it in a relatively cold section of the grill; whereas if I'm cooking shrimp I'm likely putting them directly in the hottest part of the grill. Grilling is a unique cooking technique in that it requires a deeper understanding of how heat works and how food responds to different forms of heat.
Deep-frying is supposedly the least glamorous of the cooking techniques; I'm not so sure. Again, temperature is key here. 50°F is oftentimes the difference between burned chips and soggy chips not to mention the thickness of the product being fried, but that's another post. What most people don't understand is how you can dip food into a liquid and it not get soggy. Again, that is an example of prime temperature control. The heat from the oil comes in contact with the outer layer of the product (ie crab cakes) and makes an outer shell to keep the oil out. Use oil that's too cold however and the cakes take in the oil and that's how you get oily cakes.
Roasting is often seen as the easiest way to cook and yet so many under-utilize this cooking technique. Roasting is great for flavor development. From making drippings to make a gravy; using high-heat to develop a deep crust on your roast...glorious. Again, temperature is key here. Roasting is great for breaking down tougher meats. Long cooking times at a low temperature is great for making tough meat tender whereas high-heat is great for cooking something quickly and developing a great outer crust.
Now, here's by far the most important aspect of controlling temperature from a safety perspective; The Temperature Danger Zone (40°-141°). This number is the most often fluctuating number that gets moved 1-2 degrees every 2 years or so; this range covers the highest and the lowest so if you see a different figure I wouldn't really worry about it. We all know not to leave food out or that food goes bad overtime, but how many of you realize the relationship between time and temperature as it relates to food. Hopefully you learned in school that bacteria loves warm, dark, humid places. Thing is if you don't properly regulate the temperature of your fridge your food goes bad faster either from being too warm and bacteria growth or too cold causing the water molecules to expand and at times causing the cell walls to rupture thus compromising the food. Long story short: food should never be in the temp range I just mentioned for over 4hours. If so, toss it, its garbage now. If its cold it should be 33°-39°, frozen is <32° hot is <141°.
Hopefully by now its clear Thermometers should be a real thing in your life so below I will leave links to my favorite thermometers and a few suggested cooking temperatures.
--Rare : 120-125°F
--Medium Rare : 130-135°F
--Medium : 140-145°F
--Mid-well : 150-155°F
--Well : 160+°F
--Rare: 115 to 120°F.
--Medium-rare: 120 to 125°F.
--Medium: 130 to 135°F.
--Medium-well: 140 to 145°F.
--Well-done: 150 to 155°F
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