22 May 2008

Sauce interview, Pt 2

Now that the news about your open marriage to Mrs. Dash is out...let me ask these questions next:

- What kind of oil should I use?
- What is sriracha, and can I find it in Nebraska?
- How do I know if I've added enough spice? How do I prevent adding too much?
- If I add more than one spice, do I cut back on the amounts of each one?
- Adding OJ and lemonade is a nice touch! Do any other kinds of juice work? Pineapple? Apricot? Fruit punch?


- What kind of oil should I use?
The midnight oil, damnit! After using some of these techniques, you'll find yourself cooking less, and eating more. This is a good thing. Seriously though. It depends on what you're doing.

Say for example, you're adding garlic, onions, peppers, celery, carrots, or any combination (or any one of those) to cold oil, heating said oil and aromatics in a pan, and then adding other ingredients, you can use any cooking fat. What am I talking about? Frankly, fats have this wonderful way of only doing one thing rather well. For example, olive oil is really good at tasting buttery, and lending such a depth of flavour to whatever you eat. However, it's really bad at getting super duper hot. Try to set your stove on high with olive oil in the skillet, and you'll soon have a face full of smoke, and really nasty smelling living grounds. Instead, with olive oil, you add aromatics (garlic, onions, carrots, celery, etc.) to the cold oil, and set the pot on the heat. The aromatics have water, which prevents the oil from rising too much above the 212F, which is the boiling point of water. Mind you, this isn't a license to set the stuff on the stove and forget about it, but rather a nice insurance policy.

However, there are times when you want to really scorch the bottoms of your vegetables, and get some serious colour going. In these cases, you use an oil that can handle very high heats. Examples are canola, peanut, vegetable, and safflower oil. With these oils, you can set a pot on the stove, crank the heat up to high, add the oil, and add the aromatics, or whatever else to the pot at your (relative) leisure. You still need to act quickly, as you've got about a minute before your kitchen turns into a smoky mess, but the oil will resist the temptation to stay at the neat and pat 212F. Instead, it will aggressively inch towards 500F! The point is that you want to suit the oil to your cooking situation, right? HOWEVER! Don't feel afraid of starting canola, peanut, safflower, etc. oil off cold, with aromatics thrown in.

Starting with cold oil, and cold aromatics, and allowing the two to come to temperature together, is a time-honoured method of withdrawing the maximum of flavour from the aromatics. Also, when you're baking or have everything ready, and you do the spice blend method, you really don't need to worry about which oil you use. Let me handle the first scenario first. Suppose you are feeling infinitely lazy, and need to have a shower before dinner is served. You're smelling quite ribald, and feeling the need for the cleansing waters to relax. Get into your kitchen, and hack up some root vegetables to about the same sized chunks. In a small bowl, combine a couple of tablespoons of oil with your favourite spice blend, and a bit of salt and pepper. Make a loose paste of this. In a large roasting pan, combine the spice-oil mixture with the chopped vegetables. Toss the veggies with the spices and oil to combine everything evenly. Set the oven to 350, the timer to 35 minutes, and get on with your shower. By the time you get back, you'll have the kitchen smelling heavenly, and a large mess of vegetables, waiting to be served over salad greens, or in between two slices of bread. In this case, the oil doesn't matter, because you're mainly using it to be a vector for the spices, and the fact that the oven is slowly roasting your vegetables will keep the oil from burning. Frankly, the controlled temperatures are ideal for any oil.

The second scenario is if you have a quick hand, and everything waiting. Set your large stock pot onto the stove. Crank the heat up to high. Drizzle in whatever oil you choose. Wait about 20 seconds for the oil to heat. Immediately pitch in your aromatics. Because you've got everything waiting, you don't have to worry about the oil getting too hot too quickly. Otherwise, if you aren't that quick in the kitchen, follow the advice I originally gave.

- What is sriracha, and can I find it in Nebraska?
It's one of those delicious fire sauces from Southeast Asia. If you can't find it in Nebraska, never be ashamed of substituting Tabasco, or whatever other hot sauce you fancy. If you don't fancy hot sauce, cheat, and add a touch of black pepper (as much as you can take!) to some ketchup, and call it a night. Nobody has to know.

- How do I know if I've added enough spice? How do I prevent adding too much?
Eyeballing it works for me. If I'm looking at a piece of vegetable in the pot, and each piece has enough spice that about half of it is visible through the veil of spices, I'm good to go. If you've added too much, cheat, and pitch in some cooked pasta, potatoes, rice, or whatever other frozen vegetables you have lying around. To prevent adding too much in the first place, measure out just enough of whatever spice you're adding into the palm of your hand first. If it takes up more than a dime-sized round, you're probably going to end up with too much ... stuff in your food. Err on the side of not enough. Worst comes to it, you can always sautee some more onions and garlic in oil, add additional spices to that pot, and mix it in with the rest of the food. Nobody has to know, and you've avoided the problems of having raw-tasting dried herbs.

- If I add more than one spice, do I cut back on the amounts of each one?
Here's a rule that works for me. When I'm working with an unfamiliar spice, I'll first start with 1/2 teaspoon, and add the rest of the "normal" seasonings. For example, whenever I make a pasta sauce, I add 1 tablespoon of italian seasoning, 2 tablespoons of Mrs. Dash, and 5 cloves of garlic. However, I saw a recipe that used fennel seeds. I'm not sure how it'll work out in the end. Because I'm a bit nervous about a spice like fennel seeds, I'll even cut it back to 1/4 teaspoon, rather than 1/2 teaspoon. Chances are that it'll be so subtle that I won't even notice it (as I tend to make about a 6 lb tin's worth of diced tomatoes of sauce every time I bother to make sauce). If that slight hint is pleasant, I'll try to up the ante the next time. Eventually, I'll find an amount that's close enough to the new recipe to suit my tastes. Sometimes, I end up adding more. Most of the time, I add less than what others like. The point is that because I introduced it gently, I never jarred myself into dislike.

- Adding OJ and lemonade is a nice touch! Do any other kinds of juice work? Pineapple? Apricot? Fruit punch?
YES! Yes! Not so much. Pineapple juice is very easy to incorporate into different foods, because it's got a distinctly tropical feel. Apricot juice tastes of Tradition, and Pomp. It's quite a sophisticated taste. Fruit Punch, however, tastes of ... red. I'm serious. What other flavour can you attribute to Fruit Punch? It's lovely with a hefty shot of vodka, and a splash of lime juice, but otherwise, it's best left to Church picnics, with women who wear tragic parodies of fashions they saw in Better Homes and Gardens. Frankly, I love Better Homes and Gardens, Fruit Punch, Vodka, and Apple Pie, too. However, I do feel that all of those things should be enjoyed in places where they will make the most impact.