Controlling Heat

Of all the cookbooks I have read, none tell you about the importance of being a master of heat.

There are knife techniques and butchering; flavors and how to build them and pair them; composition and plating: I have yet to see a book that discusses how and when to apply the right amount of heat at the right time for the right amount of time.

Controlling heat is the secret of being a great chef. How many cooking competition shows have you seen where the chef with the under-cooked or overcooked protein gets chopped?

Poached eggs are not as easy as they look. You want a runny yolk. How runny? It depends on the cooking time and a proper simmer.

Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Use cold eggs. Crack an egg into a cup without breaking the yolk. Slide the egg into the simmering water. The simmer will stop. That’s okay. Use a timer. 3 minutes – nice runny yolk. I like 4 minutes. 5 minutes and the yolk is almost completely set.

Serve the eggs right away. If preparing ahead, plunge the poached egg into ice water to stop the cooking. In this case, we start cold and end cold. For serving, reheat in the simmering water.

Grilling is another test of heat control. I have complete control over a gas grill. If you like that charcoal flavor, cooking with coal offers a terrific challenge.

Despite what the package of charcoal says, I would never spread the coals evenly over the bottom of the grill. I would pile the coals on one side of the grill and grill indirectly. Why? No flare ups. No blackened burgers or chicken thighs that are raw in the middle.

Baking in the oven is problematical. There may be hot spots. The temperature setting may be off by as much as 15 degrees. Get a quality oven thermometer so you know exactly what temperature you are using to bake.

Know your stove. Know how your pans conduct heat. Know your oven. Know your grill. Know your broiler.

Get an instant read thermometer. It should have a range of temperature readings that go up to at least 350 degrees so you can measure the temperature of oil for frying. If the oil is not hot enough, you will get soggy, oily fries for example.

For meat, steaks will come out a perfect medium rare (130 degrees). Turkey or chicken will not be dry if cooked to 160 degrees. 160 is that magic temperature where bacteria can no longer survive but the poultry still retains its juices.

Get a good oven thermometer. Keep it in the oven!

Even the humble pancake needs the right amount of heat applied for the right amount of time. The first one never comes out perfect because the pan is not hot enough. The last of the bunch are slightly burnt because the pan has gotten to hot.

Master and control heat. It takes practice and repetition.

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