Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cooking veggies harder than it looks

Ofelia Islas Chihak -- my mom -- liked her vegetables a little crunchy, and that's how she taught me to cook them. Chef Dan Fluharty, my current cooking teacher, said he likes them crunchy, too.

Good enough, I said to myself. I learned from one master cook, and now another will be easy to please.

Not so fast, culinary boy!

Veggies are more difficult than appearances would have them. One doesn't simply toss them into boiling water or into a sauté and forget about it. The delicate flavors of vegetables must be handled with care, then cajoled and coaxed from within and from outside to keep them delicious.

We in Culinary Foundations II had our first practice session this week on prepping vegetables for restaurant production. The competency exam will be in one week (Dec. 2), so I have improvement to make. Here's the list:

Green beans (upper right) : check. Blanch briefly, then into the sauté with rendered bacon fat, fine-diced shallot, julienned red bell pepper, and finish with a pat of whole butter, salt and white pepper to taste. Chef liked the flavor and the texture, saying mine had the right crunch to them.

Artichoke: needs work. I boiled them too hard, leaving parts overcooked, parts undercooked. In photo at left, notice the white spots where the stem comes into the main body of the artichoke. Those are signs of undercooking. The way the "choke" or inedible center, came out mushy was a sign of overcooking. How could something be both undercooked and overcooked? I need to figure it out in a week.

Brussels sprouts: speaking of under- and overcooking, these came out pretty tasty, but some were more dense than others, and thus there was an unevenness in the cooking. Will have to work on it.

Carrots (right): check, with an asterisk. They were highly flavorful, sweet from caramelized sugar and orange juice. But my oblique cuts were too big and thus the veggie was a bit too crunchy. A relatively easy fix to work on.

Eggplant: needs work, mostly because I haven't tried it yet. This beautiful veggie has always been a mystery to me. Time to unravel the mystery to try replicating the delicious eggplant parmesan that Chef made in class this week.

Adventures with vegetables, to be continued ...

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