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Jun 20, 2003 11:16 PM

Counterintuitive, but brilliant cooking techniques

  • t

In a thread below someone suggested that I start my popovers in a COLD oven for best results. I have yet to try it, but if it works, I'll add it to my growing list of cooking techniques that sound screwy, but actually deliver phenomenal results. Here are three of my favorites:

1. Cooking thick steaks in a cast iron pan over LOW heat. Every cookbook seems to call for a blazing hot pan to create a good crust, seal in the juices, etc. But the lower heat causes a beautifully *carmelized* crust to develop (as opposed to a charred, *carbonized* crust), and you end up with a much wider band of pink, juicy medium rare meat (as opposed to a raw center and overcooked edges). First heard about this from Alain Ducasse's column in the NY Times, and then one of Jeffrey Steingarten's Vogue columns.

2. Scrambled eggs started in a cold pan. For years, I'd been getting inconsistent results with the hot-pan technique, and I never had the patience to do the James Beard method of cooking eggs in a double boiler for 40 minutes, stirring constantly. Nowadays, I crack 3 egges into a cold nonstick pan, along with 1/2 tbs butter and salt and pepper. Set pan over medium heat and stir constantly. After about 4 minutes the eggs turn out luxuriously creamy and tender. I got this idea from the Vongerichten/Bittman book "Simple to Spectacular".

3. Once-fried french fries. Instead of the usual two-fry technique, my current method is to cover the raw fries in cold oil and set over high heat. Remove fries when golden brown, before the oil temp exceeds 370F. It delivers a very slightly inferior result compared to the standard two-fry technique, but it's SO much quicker and easier. Credit to Joël Robuchon via Jeffrey Steingarten.

Any other ideas?


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  1. You can cook and you can sing!!! What more could one ask!
    I've printed out your counter-intuitive cooking techniques....but could you give me a little more info on timing for lets say an inch and a half steak in a cold pan!
    The next time you're here in San Francisco..let us Chowhounds show you the culinary delights of the "City by the Bay"!

    3 Replies
    1. re: derek

      Gee, derek -- you've already had at least two chances to chow with Tom! Get with the program.

      I'm not sure about the cold popover thing, though. I thought the reaction of the batter to the hot oil was what made it puff, rather than just solidify. But if you want to risk it, be sure to let us know.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        My basic popover recipe is in a cold oven. Came from Gourmet about 30 years ago. Well-oiled muffin tin, don't need popover pan. Set oven for 450 & bake for 30 min. w/o opening door.

      2. re: derek

        Given how infrequently I actually cook steaks, I haven't arrived at a precise time yet. Maybe 5-6 minutes per side for a 2" steak, and then I finish it in the oven at 325 for however long it takes for the internal temp to reach 110F, at which point I take it out and let the steak rest for at least 10 minutes before attacking it. You should refer to Jeffrey Steingarten's latest collection of essays "It Must Have Been Something I Ate" for a better description of this technique and more juicy details about steaks in general. A very fun and informative read.

        Sorry I missed you during my last trips to the Bay Area. What a city, and what an amazing chowhound community!

      3. I've been using the start-in-cold-water technique for hard-boiled eggs, so I decided to try it for potatoes.

        I had a big bag of mealy russet baking potatoes which I wanted to use for hash browns, which require a more waxy type of potato. I put medium-sized potatoes in a pot and covered with water. When the water boiled, I turned it off and clapped a lid on and let it set for about 30 minutes. I ran cold water over them and let them sit in that for a while. Later, I peeled and shredded them, and they behaved just like waxy potatoes! No mushiness at all.

        1. This is soooo my pet peeve with recipies. Timeing.
          Kill's me every time. I do my steaks over a hot fire 4 minutes per side. Usually done med-rare. If I was to follow most recipies these steaks would be sooo over cooked. Obiously it depends on how thick they are, but I've found even for the thick ones Don't follow their directions. I mean wtf, cook 2 min. cook 2 min. then put out of fire for 10 or so. huh.

          That's called well done. Never follow directions in the book.

          2 Replies
          1. re: JoCreek

            This is what the FDA has to say about cooking meat: "Beef (including ground beef), lamb, and pork should be cooked to at least 71 C (160 F)." Steak cooked to 160 F is well done and may not be to your taste. It's certainly not to mine. Keep in mind that some, certainly not all, cookbooks follow FDA guidelines for safety and to protect against litigation. You need to know your cookbook and its author.

            I once worked on a well-respected basic cookbook where the editors insisted that for the cook's convenience recipes begin and end on the same page. If they needed to eliminate garlic or other seasonings in order to make the recipe fit, so be it. I rarely cook anything from that book without adding back in the garlic or ground black pepper I know may be missing.

            1. re: JoanN

              Internal temperatures of 160 only apply to ground beef. Steaks and other whole-muscle meat only needs to be cooked to 160 at the surface, which searing takes care of. The bacteria you're looking to kill with heat lives on the surface of the muscle, not internal to it. Ground meats differ because the surface of the muscle is ground into the interior, spreading the bacteria through.

              This only really applies to beef. Chicken has salmonella which permeates the muscle meat. Same thing with pork, even though trichinosis has pretty much been eradicated in the US pork population, it's not worth it to chance it. (Trichinosis is caused by a parasite that burrows through muscle tissue and can infect humans.)

          2. I wanted to put in a hearty second on the low-heat steak method (I also read the Ducasse column and was converted), but must clarify that it's not really "low" heat. As I recall he specified a "medium" flame (and preheated the pan). I've found that a medium to lowish medium flame works best. The thicker the steak, the lower the heat. After-cooking resting time should equal cooking time for one side. Sorry to be fuzzy but so much depends on the stove, the pan, the thickness and temperature of the meat... and I don't cook them all that often either. Practice, as always, is key.

            1. The cold-pan scrambled eggs trick comes from Julia Child... MTAOFCv1 is where I learned the trick, and it does work quite well. yum.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Chris Holst

                Tom.....Thanks for the recipe, I tried them this morning and they were wonderful!

                1. re: Chris Holst

                  I've made scrambled eggs in my slow cooker, and they take about 2 hours and are great. This is an easy way to make lots of eggs for a crowd and free up the stove for other stuff, if you're hosting brunch.