Five Things I Learned from Food TV: Day 2 - Rule: Don't Touch the Meat (and the Knob Corollary)
Tuesday, December 12, 2006 | posted by Mike
As I said yesterday, there was time, B.F.N. (Before Food Network), when I was thoroughly mediocre in the kitchen. It was never a "chore" to cook, but I was living by myself and there was no sense in putting together a big spread just for one person. So, I didn't have particularly good equipment and I really didn't buy the best ingredients. And, since there was no opportunity to practice, my culinary skills were certainly lacking.
Basically, the extent of my abilities were governed by what I read. More often than not, I read it on the side of the box of whatever I am preparing. Sometimes, when particularly ambitious, I would actually work off of a recipe downloaded from the Internet. But, if it wasn't on the page, it wasn't happening.
And yet, whenever I had a tasty or ambitious dish in a restaurant, I could clearly see that there was something special about it other than the ingredients used. There was something that made the dish more than simply the sum of its parts. Although it is quite obvious now, I didn't realize what it was. It was the skill and techniques employed by an experienced chef.
Enough failed attempts at recreating recipes finally got me to see the problem. I was doing exactly what the paper said, so why wasn't it turning out the same? It must be me. But I'm not going to head off to culinary school just to learn how to make a decent meal around the house, so how could I learn what good technique looks like without seeing it in person?
Enter food television. Pull out one of your all-purpose cookbooks and look up how to break down a whole chicken. The written explanation is enough to make your head spin. But if you get a chance to see it done, it makes all the difference in the world.
I started watching cooking shows, both on PBS and on the Food Network, and I started to see commonalities that formed the basis of my skill set. You know them...drizzle in the olive oil while whisking...dice the onion but cutting it in half and leaving the root end intact...and, when trying to brown your food, don't touch the meat!
Managing your heat might be the hardest part of learning how to cook. Consider having to manage said heat using an electric stove top like we have in the TVFF.com household and it gets even harder. But it takes a bit of courage to let that chicken breast sit in the pan, sizzling away, without picking it up before that brown crust forms. After all, isn't "burned" food ruined? And they always show those fancy chefs tossing the ingredients of a pan, so that must be "cooking."
Emeril Live was one of the first shows that I would watch with any regularity on the Food Network. Everyone mostly thinks of the "kick it up a notch" thing and the "BAM!" and the "I don't know where you get your XXXX, but where I get mine it doesn't come seasoned." But the one like piece of advice that he gives and that I always try to remember is when he pulls the knob off of the stove and shows you that it has settings other than "Off" and "High." It may not make you feel particularly macho to bring something to a low simmer, but it will pay off in the end.
I learned a lot from Emeril and from all of the chefs, particularly when their advice overlapped. It was obviously something that they learned early on in culinary school and it has proven to be something so important that they mention it nearly every time. Since I wasn't about to go applying to the Culinary Institute of America, it was nice to be able to learn these lessons in my own home.
And I learned it by watching food TV.
Labels: Emeril Lagasse