Your kitchen bookshelves may be crowded, but you know there is always room for one more. This is the one more you really need.
Michael Rhulman is a food journalist, chef, book writer, and, best of all, explainer of the long and complex food culture that we share. Rhulman’s Twenty is his latest work, one that has already won international recognition and awards. The book’s premise is simple: here are twenty cooking techniques you need to know. The techniques are accompanied by a hundred recipes and over 250 detailed photographs by his wife. Those photos show you the sequence of steps for very important recipes, like Angel Food Cake with Whipped Cream and Toffee.
Rhulman has co-authored great cookbooks, such as The French Laundry. In his work with great chefs and in his own experimentation to explain both the art and the science of cooking, Michael has become a master. His spirit is to explain and to simplify, so might also consider his book Ratio, a masterful description of the relative ratios of ingredients for basic foods — such as stocks and pie dough.
Here, his simplifying technique is applied not to ingredients but to techniques. Master his twenty techniques here, and you are well on your way to becoming an accomplished chef.
The twenty techniques include some you’ll know:
- Poach Grill
And then there are his techniques that you might call ingredients:
Why are these techniques? In the past hundred years, we have gone from a farming society based on sustenance to our complex culture of dependency: supermarkets, frozen food, food flown from around the world, …
But in the times before that complexity was before us, cultures used salt and water and eggs and other simple things not just as ingredients but as steps, the only steps available at the time, to develop recipes and evolve the techniques that are integral to our daily lives. The invention of mayonnaise was not obvious. Take for example, salt. This blog closes with a recipe for Lemon Confit, a dish that has spread across the world. Many cuisines employ lemon confit in so many ways. But, at the core, it all begins with salt and salting. The technique is universal, discovered independently and enjoyed universally.
Rhulman’s first technique is his most important: it is to think. Rhulman is not a relentless perfectionist, at least he does not seem that way. But he is dedicated to the detail that is essential to the craft of cooking. Thinking ahead, planning ahead, organizing before you begin, those are vital steps both to making great food and to enjoying the job. The kitchen should be your home’s center for creativity and fund. Rhulman’s Twenty is a great way to learn how.
In this confit recipe, some sugar is added to balance the salt. The lemons must cure for 3 months, then you removed them from the packing salt, cut away the flesh and pith, and recover just the peel. That peel is your gateway to many recipes. It can be minced, chipped, sliced, or just left in large pieces. You might want to rinse the peel before using — after all it’s been in salt for 3 months.
You can use the juice from the jar, mixed with soda water, for a beverage. The lemons will keep indefinitely, but beware of mold. Contact with the air can lead to mold forming. Look for it often, and simply amputate.
Use a nonreactive vessel — that means glass — for the curing process.
Yield: 2 quarts
- 2 pounds kosher salt
- 1 pound sugar
- 5 lemons halved vertically
- 1 cup of water
In a large bowl, combine the salt and sugar and stir with a spoon or whisk to distribute the sugar in the salt. Put the lemons in a 2-quaret/2-lliter nonmetal container and pour the slat mixture over them. Jiggle and rap the container to make sure the mixture falls into all the crevices. Add the water (the moisture will help the salt stay in contact with the lemons). Cover the container and store in a cupboard or in the refrigerator for 3 months. You’ll want to date the container or make a note in your Outlook calendar to remind you when the lemons are ready.
The lemons will keep indefinitely.
Source: Rhulman’s Twenty by Michael Ruhlman
There are times when I just crave the tartness of a green salsa. And many of those times, I’m impatient. I want it NOW. I could seek counseling for my inability to deal with need and want. Or I can pick up a can of tomatillos.
I choose the can. Although you can make salsa from raw tomatillos, I prefer them cooked in some manner before going into the salsa. You can boil or roast them. Either way, with fresh tomatillos you have to peel them, then halve them if you are roasting, and there’s the mess and … There’s that can solution again: already with the leaves off, and already cooked.
All I have to do is not mess up with can opener and spill juice on the counter or floor. My lovely wife Suzen is fastidious about a kitchen free of mess, wet spots and sticky spots. She keeps finding them. I don’t know who puts them there.
This recipe produces a salsa that is tart but not overly so. The avocado adds to the green but of course contributes essential smoothness. This recipe calls for some heat, one serrano chile. Open up your vegetable bin and use what you have, just adjusting the amount depending on the actual type of chiles you have around.
What did I use? One poblano unroasted but washed, quartered and tossed into the blender. I was hotly happy with the results and very happy at my preparation time. I know the recipe says to refrigerate for up to two hours or until ready to use. I was ready then, and the next day the leftovers were even better. [Yes, the tomatillos had contributed some pectin so the next day required just a touch of stirring to loosen it up. That’s your chance to add some additional lemon or lime juice to brighten the flavor if you desire.]
This recipe comes from Fresh Mexico, a delightful book with 100 very authentic, very quick and very, very delicious recipes.
Easy Tomatillo Avocado Salsa
Yield: about two cups
- 8 ounces tomatillos from the can
- 1 avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
- ½ cup [packed] fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 serrano chile
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine the tomatillos, avocado, cilantro, serrano chile, and lemon juice in a blender and puree until smooth. Season the salsa to taste with salt and pepper.
Refrigerate for up to 2 hours or until ready to use.
Source: Fresh Mexico by Marcela Valladolid