From Mundane to Gourmet: A Primer on 5 Star Cooking
Gourmet cooking doesn’t have to be a mysterious art reserved to chefs in five star restaurants. In fact, by mastering a few techniques and experimenting with flavors, you’re home cooked meals can quickly resemble five star quality. Here’s what you need to know.
1. The Presentation
A big difference between basic home cooking and gourmet is presentation. No one would expect to go to a five star restaurant and receive a sloppy plate with giant sized portions. To improve the presentation of your food, start first with the plate. Vary the plate size and shape that you use based on the food that you are serving. Plain white serving dishes help to keep the focus on the food. Arrange the food to be aesthetically pleasing, perhaps placing the vegetables either beneath or on top of the meat. Once the food is arranged, garnish! Use herbs to add a touch of color or arrange the sauce on the plate like a glaze, rather than just dumping it on.
2. The Seasoning
Good seasoning is another key to gourmet cooking. It makes a basic chicken breast taste delectable and makes bland fish and vegetables appealing. A key to remember is that spices should be added early in order for the meat to absorb the flavor. Herbs should be added later because otherwise they will be cooked off. When experimenting with new flavors be sure to add a little at a time, so it doesn’t become too overpowering. Finally, use salt. It brings out the flavor of the food and the other seasonings.
3. The Courses
Another key of gourmet cooking is offering multiple courses. Generally all you need is three courses, an appetizer, entree and dessert.
The secret to a gourmet appetizer is to take basic, bite-sized food and dress it up. Try using a mandoline to quickly and uniformly chop up vegetables. Dress up bread and vegetables by piping the spreads and dips on top in a swirling pattern and then add a garnish on top. If you plan on using a cold appetizer, such as shrimp, try serving them in an ice bowl for a surprising serving option.
4. The Wine
If you really want to impress your friends, invest some time into learning about wine. Get a good book that can tell you about what kind of wine to pair with different types of food, and you will have the perfect accompaniment to your gourmet meal.
5. The Method
A major difference between a home cook and a gourmet cook is an understanding of cooking methods and how to use the more complex methods to cook certain foods. Three methods every gourmet cook should know are poaching, saute and braising.
Poaching is a difficult cooking process because it uses the least amount of heat and cooks gradually and gently. It is best used for delicate proteins, such as eggs, fish or chicken. In order to poach an egg, instead of boil it, the temperature of the water should be kept between 160 and 180 degrees. There should be a slight current in the water, but it should not be bubbling at all.
A proper saute requires four elements: a good saute pan, high heat, a little fat and uniformly cut ingredients. In order to saute ingredients instead of fry them, the ingredients must be chopped up, so they can be cooked quickly with much less fat in the pan. Heating the pan up all of the way before adding the ingredients is crucial to keeping the meat and veggies from drying up.
Braising is ideal for cooking tough meats that become tender as you slowly heat them for several hours. A proper braising requires attention to the amount of water and heat you apply to meat. The amount of water you add must not cover the meat, otherwise it will become a stew, and temperatures should remain low to avoid boiling the meat.