Technique: Roasting Peppers

Roasting peppers is a fundamental technique. All peppers - especially sweet red, yellow and orange -  undergo a significant transformation when they are roasted to char the skins, then peeled and seeded.

There are several methods for roasting peppers. The most important aspect is to ensure that the pepper is well-charred on all sides. The yellow pepper in the picture above is NOT really charred enough (but in a rush it can get by - it just makes peeling the skin harder). Here are the methods in my order of preference:

  1. Cut pepper into 3 or 4 large slices (thus, now they are cored). Broil skin-side up for about 15 minutes. Peel off skins when cool. 
  2. Roasted whole on an outdoor grill (presumably while or before other items are grilled). Then put the peppers in a bowl, cover the bowl (with anything), and let the peppers sit for 10 minutes or so. Then peel the crispy skin and remove the core. If too hot to handle, peel and core under a light spray of water from the kitchen faucet. 
  3. Under the broiler whole. Follow instructions in #2. 
  4. Old-fashioned, quaint, time-consuming method: hold pepper on a long handled fork over a gas burner, turning continuously. If you see this instruction in an old cookbook, don't do it. Use #1, 2 or 3!!

Technique: Be Visually Creative

Nine Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Sometimes just changing up the appearance of a dish makes it more appealing. Of course there is some thought that "presentation sells".

But I'm talkin' chicken salad sandwich here.

With summer coming and kids home from school, any trick will do to make lunch more interesting. It is vital that you use the full proper name of this dish when preparing it for your children - Nine Chicken Salad Sandwiches.

My version of chicken salad uses a little shallot, celery, equal parts sour cream and mayo and the secret ingredient - fresh tarragon. Dried tarragon will work too. Add sea salt and fresh ground pepper. I've never measured amounts, so you don't have to either. It's not hard to make it taste good. Really.

For balance on visually creative proposition, here's something fancier. Chilled Pea Soup. Those fancy garnishes, if I recall, are nothing more than a couple thyme leaves, cubes of plum tomato, goat cheese and fresh cracked pepper. The soup actually uses frozen peas, as recommended by Gordon Ramsey.  Printer friendly version is here.

Pizza with Carmelized Onions, Figs and Blue Cheese

Dough recipe came from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, listed as Sam Sifton's Pizza dough. Much like tomato sauces, I've made many, many pizza doughs over the years. This is not my #1 favorite, but it's near the top of the list. Labor is minimal, texture and flavor is excellent.

Technique: Carmelized Onions

Carmelized onions in four stages: raw, softened, golden, carmelized.  

Carmelizing onions is a fundamental and useful technique. When well cooked - which takes about 25 minutes for a large onion - they develop a rich sweet and savory. From there, they can be used many ways:

To Carmelize Onions
  1. Onions cook down to a pretty small quantity when carmelized. Don't be afraid to use a lot of onion.  
  2. Slice 2 or 3 large onions. You can slice across the equator, or pole-to-pole. Slices should be consistent in size, either 1/4" (larger) or 1/8" (smaller). 
  3. Add a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Over medium-high heat allow the onions to cook for 30 to 35 minutes total. Stir the onions about every 5 minutes to loosen from the bottom of the pan. 
  4. Season with a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper. 
Option 1: Add 3-4 sprigs of thyme and one bay leaf for additional flavor. 
Option 2: Use 50% onion, 50% fresh sliced fennel. After 10 minutes, add a tablespoon of fennel seeds, two teaspoons of red pepper flakes. 

Homemade Carmelized Onion Dip 
This is what most people would call "French Onion Dip".
  1. Chop 1/4 of a large onion into a fine dice, about 1/4" pieces or smaller. You should have about half a cup. 
  2. Saute onion in olive oil, along with a tablespoon of sugar. 
  3. Allow onion pieces to get dark brown - just short of being burnt. 
  4. Immediately add to one cup sour cream. 
  5. Refrigerate. Stir once an hour. Serve at least two hours later or overnight. 

For the past five weeks or so I’ve shared some thoughts about ingredient selection:

Ultimately, the key to ingredient selection is to develop a critical eye for what you determine to be the best available product – just don’t choose randomly. Consistency in ingredient selection will help create consistency in your cooking.

Fresh Leeks from our garden

On Technique 
I used to think that developing sound cooking techniques was the hardest part of cooking, that is, if you already took advantage of good recipes, of which there are fewer than you’d expect. 

As I think about it further, developing technique boils down to just two key elements – awareness and repetition. Once you know what to do you can practice and get better; then get faster and develop true expertise. It’s just a matter of time.

Maybe ingredient selection is harder than that – seasons change, vendors change, products change, shelf life, organics, locally sourced…….yes, that’s definitely harder.

Cooking Techniques – A View From 30,000 Feet
I’ll share here a simple outline of the types of techniques needed for sound, fundamental cooking. Not tricks, shortcuts, specialty techniques – just the things you need to make every day cooking more reliable. As the weeks go by, I’ll share details about specific techniques and recipes that use them.


1.       Mise en Place – being organized from the start
2.       Prep Cooking – getting products ready for the “real cooking”
3.       “Cooking” – sauté, braise, roast, grill, brine, deep fry, steam, brown, stir fry,….
4.       Cooling and resting

I’d guess that most people would think that '#3–Cooking', would be the hardest skill of all. I don’t think so. Oh sure, that’s the area where there’s greatest potential for disaster. But,......

Without organization, the whole cooking process can get convoluted, nerve racking and time consuming - thus discouraging. 

Prep cooking, well, it takes the most time usually. So it becomes a very critical stage so you don’t get discouraged with the overall cooking process, or decide that you’ll ‘never try to peel a mango again’. 

Cooling and resting are critical to final quality and taste. In fact, might be the single most important steps for many dishes. 


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