Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Homemade Pasta — why bother?

Do you make your own pasta? Or, do you purchase it? Making homemade pasta can be incredibly satisfying but, you won’t be able to re-create all types of pasta in your own kitchen. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

Making pasta dough is not difficult and the ingredient list is short: flour, water, salt and eggs. As you will read below, the only one of these ingredients that is always used is flour. The others may or may not be used depending on the type of pasta you are making. Before we delve into the specifics of the ingredients, let me talk about what you want in the finished pasta dough.

There are two components to a good pasta dough – elasticity and plasticity. The former means the dough can be stretched and it will bounce back, making it easier to knead. Plasticity means the dough can be molded into a shape and it stays put. Many feel that the key to a good pasta dough is the right combination of elasticity and plasticity. This is achieved by having the right amount of protein and hydration in your flour. The proteins in flour are glutenin and gliadin, which when kneaded develop into a gluten network. Certain flours take more kneading than others to achieve the same level of gluten development.

You also want pasta that is firm enough to stand up to cooking without falling apart or sticking together into a ball. When done, it should be al dente, firm to the bite. This firmness is more easily achieved with a high protein flour.

Finally, you want a dough that doesn’t crack or get brittle when kneaded.

Flour

Most will agree that there is no single perfect flour for pasta making. It depends on what type of pasta you want to end up with. (See this Tip for an explanation of the different types of flour.) Most importantly, you want flour with a protein content of between 10 & 15%. This is to ensure there is enough gluten for the dough to be able to stretch without breaking while giving the eater the “bite” we like in a good pasta.

In any discussion of flour for pasta making, you will undoubtedly see the following flours.

AP flour

This flour is nice because we all have it in our pantries and it is less expensive than the specialty flours. Another plus it has a neutral flavor. Depending on the brand, it has a decent protein content but it does take more kneading to get the correct gluten network.

Because it has a fine texture, AP flour is good for making a soft pasta. The dough will be strong and elastic, which makes it good for making different shapes.

There are some downsides to using AP flour. It is easy to overcook and get mushy pasta. Pasta made from this is not great for drying but rather should be cooked fresh.

00 flour

This is a very finely ground flour with a mild flavor. It is the most common flour found in Italian households for making egg pasta by hand.

Some 00 flours may be lower in protein but not always. It depends on what kind of wheat it is ground from. If you do have a lower protein one, it may not be suitable for making pasta without eggs. It needs the egg to hold it together and give the pasta its toothy bite.

It makes a soft, tender pasta that holds up better if overcooked a bit. It is great for softer pasta shapes such as tagliatelle and ravioli.

Semolina

Semolina is made from durum wheat but is not the same as durum flour. Semolina is more coarsely ground than durum flour and is good for thicker, coarser kinds of pasta, especially pasta that you want to hold onto a lot of sauce. It needs no egg to make the dough.

It has a very high gluten content, which leads to a firm texture. It has less elasticity than AP but much more plasticity. So, it is good for extruded pastas such as penne and macaroni – they don’t lose their shape when cooked.

Pasta mix

Some people like to combine some of the above flours to achieve the result they want. One typical make-at-home mix would be the following.

  • ½# (225 gm) unbleached AP flour
  • ¼# (115 gm) durum flour
  • ¼# (115 gm) semolina

King Arthur Baking Company sells a bag of “Pasta Flour Blend” and it is a blend of the above three flours. As of this writing, a 3# bag sells for $12.95.

Eggs

Recipes for most fresh pasta will call for eggs. The eggs not only add moisture but also help with binding the dough together. As mentioned above, if you are using semolina as your flour, you probably do not need eggs. Dried pasta that you buy in the store will not be made with eggs.

Recipes will vary on how many eggs are called for. Some will call for whole eggs, some for yolks and some a combination. Here is a link to an interesting article on Serious Eats where the author tests all sorts of different versions. I recommend trying a few recipes and seeing what you like.

Now that you have your ingredients, how do you put them all together? The classic way to make pasta dough is by hand on a countertop. You mound up your flour and make a well in the middle. In the well place your eggs and salt. With a fork, you carefully start working the flour into the egg. As the mixture gets thicker, most pasta makers will switch from the fork to a bench scraper and use that to continue to fold the dough incorporating more flour as you go. When you have incorporated enough flour, you will start kneading the dough. As explained above, this is where the gluten network develops and certain flours (such as AP) will require more kneading to get that right balance of elasticity and plasticity.

Some people like to use a food processor. Put your flour and salt in the bowl and process to combine. Add the eggs and process for 30-60 seconds, until it comes together into a ball. If it doesn’t come together, you may want to add a teaspoon of water. Put dough on the counter and finish with hand-kneading. Alternatively, some experts recommend taking it out of the processor before it pulls together into a ball. When it forms into small clumps, take it out and finish by hand. Since the processor does quite a bit of kneading, you will not to do your hand kneading for as long.

No matter what method you use to make the dough, it should be wrapped in plastic and rested before proceeding with rolling it out. This allows the dough ball to fully hydrate as well as giving the gluten strands time to relax, which will make it much easier to roll.

After resting, the dough is ready to form into your desired pasta shape. Using a pasta machine to roll out your dough will give you superior results. You can try rolling it out with a rolling pin although you probably won’t get it as smooth and thin as you would with a machine. Some sources recommend recipes that they created specifically for hand rolling. If hand rolling, you would then cut it using a knife or a hand pasta cutter or stamp. If using a pasta machine, it usually comes with attachments for cutting strips such as fettuccini.

There are many shapes that you can make by hand. See this fun video from Bon Appetit that shows a pasta expert making 29 different shapes by hand although some did require some additional simple tools.

I mentioned in the beginning that you won’t be able to re-create all pasta types in your kitchen. Although you can certainly try using some of the techniques shown in the above video, it will be very time consuming with a large learning curve. Pasta companies use machines that push the dough through metal dies to create all the different shapes as well as a very carefully controlled drying process. That is why there will always be a place for dried pasta on our shelves.

I do not make homemade pasta as often as I should. When I do, it is primarily to make ravioli or lasagna sheets such as the spinach pasta sheets used in this traditional lasagna recipe. It is a fair amount of work but oh so worth it!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Flour — so much to know!

When you go to the baking isle in the grocery store, you are often met with a myriad of flour choices. Not only are there a number of different brands but there are also different types of flours. In this Cooking Tip, I will attempt to help you navigate these choices. For this Tip, I am only going to discuss white wheat flour, not whole grain varieties or gluten-free alternatives.

In the US, we name our flours based on the recommended usage such as bread flour, cake flour, pastry flour and all-purpose flour. The differences between these flours is the protein (predominantly gluten) content due to what wheat variety is used in the milling of the flour. Even among these usage categories, protein content can vary from brand to brand or even within different shipments of the same brand. One company that pledges to always have the same protein content no matter where or when you buy their flour is King Arthur Baking Company. King Arthur will also list the protein percentage on the package whereas most other brands will not do so. You can get an idea by looking at the amount of protein on the nutrition label but that is not as straightforward as you would think. The government requires the company to round the amount of protein and list that amount rather than the exact amount. So, any protein content between 3.5 and 4.4 grams would be listed as 4 grams of protein. However, a flour with 3.5 grams would have a protein percentage of 11.6% and 4.4 grams would be 14.6%. Although the government may think that is the same, in terms of baking, those two flours would act differently.

Cake & pastry flours have the lowest protein content (7-9%) and are milled to a fine consistency. They are what gives the tenderness to baked products. (See this Tip that explains why these flours may not be the best choice for bakers in high altitude.)

All-purpose (AP) flour has a protein content in the middle: 10-12%. If you only want one flour in your cupboard, this is the one to choose. Because it has a moderate protein content, you can use it for almost any purpose. You won’t necessarily get the same result as you would if using one of the other flours, but it will most likely be acceptable.

The type of flour with one of the highest protein contents (12-16%) is Bread flour. This is why when bread dough is kneaded, the gluten is developed leading to the structure and chewiness of artisan breads.

Other countries name their flours differently. I will only discuss Italy and France, two countries very well-known for excellent baking. Most European countries name their flours according to the amount of refinement. To explain this, let me review that there are 3 components to a kernel of wheat.

  • Bran – the fiber-rich outer layer.
  • Germ – the core of the seed that is high in fat.
  • Endosperm – the interior layer that is composed of carbohydrates and protein and is the largest percentage of the kernel.

Flour refinement consists of removing the bran and germ and leaving just the endosperm. There is a relationship between refinement and strength. The less refined the flour, the stronger it will be. However, the amount of protein (strength) also relates to the type of wheat used in making the flour and the season it is grown. A full discussion of this is beyond the scope of this Cooking Tip.

In Italy, the flours are named according to the level of refinement.

  • Type 00 – sometimes known as “double zero” flour, this type must contain at least 99.45% endosperm. It is recommended for pastry and pasta making.
  • Type 0 – protein content is between 10-12%, making it more versatile.
  • Type 1 – very similar to Type 0 but it does have a coarser grind. Both types 0 and 1 are used for everyday pastries, bread and pizza.
  • Type 2 – with a protein content of 10-13%, this is what we would call white whole wheat and would be used in more rustic products.

The French have their own labeling system. It is a numbering system where the larger number represents a higher amount of whole grain.

  • Type 45 – the “whitest” of flours, it is best for cakes, croissants, brioche and scones. It is similar to Italian 00 flour and US cake/pastry flour. Protein content is about 8.5-9.5%
  • Type 55 – great for bread, croissants and baguettes. It is the most versatile of French flours with a protein content of 10-12% and compared to Italian type 0 and US all-purpose flour.
  • Type 65 – similar to T55 but with a rougher feel, making it great for artisan breads. It is similar to Italian type 1 and bread flour with a protein content of 12-13.5%
  • Type 80 – in between white and whole grain, similar to Italian type 1 and US high-gluten flour.
  • Type 110 – great for bread baking and close to Italian type 2, white whole wheat flour.
  • Type 150 – whole grain flour, similar to Italian type 2 and whole grain flour. Protein content of 12-13.5%.

True artisan bread makers also pay attention to something called the W-value of different flours. It is related to the strength of the flours. A discussion is beyond the purpose of this Tip but here is a video that talks about it if you are interested.

Who knew there was so much to know about flour? Believe me, I only scratched the surface of the topic of flour. I only hope that not only will it help those of you who are novice bakers but also will stir interest if you are interested in trying French or Italian flours.

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Is it Caramel, Toffee or Butterscotch?

Toffee has been on my mind recently for a couple of reasons. First, I am getting ready for our local Honey Festival. One of the goodies I make for this festival is Orange Blossom Honey & Walnut Toffee. The other reason is that I am also prepping for a class I will be teaching on British Fare. One of the British desserts I might be making is Banoffee Pie. It gets its name be combining the two major ingredients – bananas and toffee. I have written a prior Cooking Tip on Caramel before but decided to write a Tip on how those two differ from each other and from butterscotch. I will give you the classic differences but please realize that many recipes may depart from these classical definitions and use the names interchangeably.

Caramel is basically cooked sugar. There are two main methods of making caramel – a wet method and a dry method. The difference is whether or not water is used. See the above referenced Tip for more detailed information. Whether you use the dry or wet method, when you are done, you have caramel. However, to turn that into a beautiful caramel sauce, you will want to add cream to the finished caramel.

Toffee is actually a candy made from caramel and butter that is cooked to the hard-crack stage. To make it, you add white sugar, water and butter to a pan and cook until the butter melts and the sugar begins to turn brown. It is done when it reaches the appropriate temperature.

Butterscotch is made with butter and brown sugar that is heated to the soft crack stage. Since brown sugar contains molasses, this gives butterscotch a darker color and a deeper favor. It is also moister and more acidic, the latter which helps to fight crystallization.

Differences

Ingredients

  • Caramel is made from white sugar either by itself or with water and then cream.
  • Toffee is made from white sugar and butter.
  • Butterscotch is made from brown sugar and butter

Flavor

  • Caramel usually contains cream rather than butter. Cream contains lactose. As lactose cooks, it undergoes a process known as the Maillard reaction. This gives it a brown color but also a deep, nutty flavor.
  • Toffee will have a darker flavor since it is cooked much longer.
  • Butterscotch will have the flavor that is imparted from the molasses in the brown sugar.

Temperature

  • Caramel is cooked to whatever darkness you like.
  • Toffee is cooked to the hard-crack stage.
  • Butterscotch is cooked to the soft crack stage.

Have you every tried making these delightful confections? Caramel is probably the trickiest due the crystallization risk as explained in my prior Tip. The other concern with all of these is for those of us who live at altitude. You will notice that when I mentioned cooking them, I talked of hard and soft crack stage. Although these correlate with certain temperatures, those are meant for people who live closer to sea level. See my Tip on Candy Making for altitude adjustments.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Ever thought of making your own sausage?

Even though I try to limit my intake, I absolutely love sausage. My husband says it must be my German heritage coming through. I am not sure about that but there are not many sausages that I don’t enjoy eating. Because of that, I always think I should be spending more time making sausages at home. Making your own sausage can be fun but there is quite a bit to think about. That is the subject of this Cooking Tip. This will be more of an overview of sausage making. If you intend to become serious about making sausage, I would recommend investing in some books by experts.

You may first ask Why would I want to make my own sausages? Other than the satisfaction of trying and successfully learning a new skill, you know what exactly is in those sausages you are eating. Also, you can control the fat content to what you like. Finally, you can be creative and come up with your own flavors that you cannot buy in the store. Read on for what equipment and ingredients you will need as well as an outline of the actual process.

Equipment

  • Meat grinder
    • This is not absolutely necessary but you will obtain a much better texture by using one. You can get a stand-alone meat grinder or an attachment for your stand mixer.
    • You can use a food processor but be careful that it doesn’t heat up the meat too much. Also, because of the final texture of the product, this method is better suited for patties rather than the links that are produced by stuffing the meat into casings.
  • Bowls
    • You will want one to hold the meat and a larger one that will be filled with ice that you can place the smaller one into. It is important to keep everything very cold.
  • Sausage stuffer
    • Unless you want to just make a patty shape, you will need a sausage stuffer. Once again, there are stand-alone stuffers but there is also an attachment for your stand mixer.
  • Pricking tool
    • Used to remove air bubbles. You may also use a small sterilized skewer or needle.
  • Food scale, preferably one that weighs in grams.
  • Food thermometer – to ensure the sausage is cooked to a safe temperature.

Ingredients

  • Meat
    • Although pork is the most common, sausages can also be made with chicken, beef, lamb, goat, game meat and seafood. You can also make vegetarian sausages.
    • You want an ideal balance of lean meat, fat and liquid. Too little fat and you get a dry sausage. Too much fat and it will be greasy. This can vary based on personal preference but a good place to start is 75% lean and 25% fat. The final sausage should also contain about 10% water.
    • If using pork many experts use pork butt but others use pork shoulder.
  • Added fat
    • You do not always need to add fat but, at times, your recipe will specify this to ensure the correct ratio.
    • What is often recommended is “back-fat”, a solid fat that comes from along the back of the animal. However, belly fat will also work.
  • Fillers
    • Some recipes will specify some sort of filler that acts as a binder.
    • It might be bread, rice or something known as “rusk” — a non-yeasted hard bread.
  • Salt
    • This is not a time you want to “wing it” with the salt as it is essential for a number of reasons. First is its role in bringing out flavor. It also helps to discourage microbial growth. Finally, it aids in the final texture and ability to bind.
    • Experts vary a bit on how much salt to use. They recommend anywhere between 1½% to 3% with most advising 2%.
    • Another piece of salting advice is to salt the meat up to 8 hours before grinding. In testing, this resulted in juicier meat.
  • Other seasonings
    • Although salt is essential, the other spices are up to you.
  • Curing agents
    • If you wish to make dried or semi-dried sausages, you should read up on curing agents like Prague Powder or Morton’s Tender Quick mix. These contain potassium nitrate.
  • Sausage casings
    • These are not required if you wish to make patty-shaped sausages but you will need them for the rope-like shape.

Directions

  • First, I highly recommend you wear gloves, especially for the mixing and stuffing part.
  • This is also a time to be very organized and have all your equipment and ingredients gathered together and ready to go.
  • One of the most important pieces of advice is the importance of always keeping everything cold.
  • Cut the meat into cubes. To make this easier, you may want to put the meat into the freezer for a short time before cutting it and again afterwards to ensure it is easy to grind. Chilling also helps to counter the heat that will be created by the grinding process. After cubing, spread out on a baking sheet and freeze for 30-60 minutes, until the surface of the meat feels crunchy but it is not frozen solid.
  • Place in grinder and grind with the recommended grind plate. Catch the meat in a bowl placed over another bowl that has been filled with ice.
  • Season the meat and knead together for about 5 minutes. There are those who prefer to season the cubed meat before grinding. If you do this, put the seasoned meat into the refrigerator for 2-4 hours before grinding for the best flavor.
  • The mixture warms as you knead it, which helps with emulsification. When properly mixed, it will look homogenous, will feel like a paste and will start to stick to the bowl. Some recommend putting a small amount in the palm of your hand, turning your hand over. If the meat sticks to your hand, it has been properly mixed. This is the point when you would fold in any ingredients such as bacon, nuts or dried fruit.
  • To test whether the seasoning is to your liking, fry a small amount and taste, adjusting the seasonings as you desire. This process of frying a small amount can also help you evaluate its texture. If it is crumbly and releasing fat as it cooks, it needs more mixing. When done, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate again.
  • Stuff the casings, if using. Follow the instructions on your machine for this step. Realize that it will take some practice before you get good at it. Once you are skilled at this, you probably will be able to twist the sausages into links as they are coming off the stuffer. However, there is nothing wrong with just stuffing a longer link and tying off the end. Then, twist the length you want in one direction and the next one in the opposite direction until all the links are formed.
  • After stuffing the sausage into the casings, look for any air bubbles and prick them with a small sterilized skewer, needle or pricking tool.
  • Finally, either cook them to enjoy for your dinner or freeze them for future use.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this is just a short primer to help you decide if you want to venture into the world of making your own sausage. If you do, I would seek out some books on sausage making for more detailed instructions. I like the book Sausage Making by Ryan Farr for the great description and photographs of the actual process. I am not a fan of many of the recipes but there are many other sources for those.

There are so many different types of sausage to try to make, or buy if you prefer. Stay tuned for the next Cooking Tip for a primer on all the sausages there are out there to enjoy.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Throw a Tapas Party

This is the third in a series of Cooking Tips on Spanish cooking. First, I talked about the Spanish ingredients you will want for authentic dishes. Then, we delved into the world of one of the most popular Spanish dishes – Paella. If you asked people what food other than paella they associated with Spain, the answer would probably be Tapas. So, in this Cooking Tip, I would like to talk about what Tapas are and how to throw your own Tapas party.

Tapas are not really a type of food but a style of eating. They are small plates that are typically consumed at bars before lunch and dinner. The origins are not entirely clear but many say it began as a slice of ham or chorizo placed over the mouth of a wineglass and served complimentary. The verb tapar means “to cover” and some say this was originally done to keep flies out of the drink. For an in-depth discussion of the possible origins of tapas, see this article from Spain Food Sherpas.

In Spain, a person does not visit a tapas bar for the purpose of eating but rather to socialize along with a bite to tide them over during the long hours between lunch and dinner. What can constitute a tapa varies greatly. It might only be a dish of olives. Some places serve different sizes with the tapa being enough for one person. If called a media ración, it should be enough for 2 people to share and a ración would be even larger.

Here in the US, Tapas restaurants have become very popular and I have eaten in some excellent ones. However, they might be more accurately termed “Small Plate” restaurants. Even though they serve tapas-sized dishes, they might not be traditional Spanish dishes. In my opinion, that is a not necessarily a bad thing. Just do your research if you are looking for something traditional.

Traditional Spanish tapas are fairly simple. It might be a dish of olives or a meat/cheese plate or it could be more. They might be hot or cold. Here are a few of common tapas.

  • Marinated olives
  • Marcona almonds
  • Cheese and meat board – Serrano ham, Spanish chorizo, Manchego cheese, Cabrales cheese, quince paste, olives, fruit, baguette.
  • Tortilla Española – also known as a Spanish omelet. Typically made with potatoes, onion, and eggs. Some recipes include ham or chorizo. It can be served hot or cold.
  • Patatas Bravas – crispy fried potatoes covered with a spicy tomato or a creamy garlic sauce
  • Gambas al ajillo – shrimp sauteed in olive oil and abundant garlic.
  • Gambas Paco Alcalde – shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce
  • Croquetas (croquettes) – A lightly breaded and filled bite. The filling might be mashed potatoes and ham, wild mushrooms, seafood or cheese.
  • Chorizo al Vino – Spanish chorizo cooked in Spanish red wine and served with crusty bread.
  • Pincho morunos – skewers of pork marinated in spices and then grilled.
  • Ensaladilla rusa – a type of Russian (yes, Russian) potato salad made with mayonnaise, eggs, potatoes and carrots. Sometimes tuna and peas are added.
  • Albóndigas – meatballs, typically served with different sauces.
  • Empanadas – A crispy dough surrounding a variety of fillings.
  • Piquillo Peppers filled with Shrimp or Tuna
  • Dates stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon
  • Chorizo lollipops – these may not be the most traditional tapa but they are simple and delightful. Make a sugar syrup, place sliced chorizo on a skewer and carefully dip in the syrup, allowing the excess to drip off.

My husband and I often find that the best dishes when we eat in a restaurant are the appetizers, not the main course. Ordering a number of appetizers is very common and popular. This is essentially what a tapas restaurant does. If you do not have that kind of restaurant or you would like to turn your home into that restaurant, consider throwing a tapas party. Even better, book me to come to your house and do a Tapas Cooking Party!

Here are some tips for hosting your own tapas party.

  • For an intimate gathering, you may want to serve the tapas at a leisurely pace starting with lighter ones and progressing to more filling ones.
  • For larger parties, bring out most of tapas at the beginning so guests can help themselves. If the tapas need last minute prep and are meant to be eaten as soon as they are served, space them out over the night and pass them around as they come out.
  • You may or may not want plates. Tapas that require forks/plates are better for smaller gatherings. For large groups, you will want to mostly serve finger foods.
  • Present a variety of tastes and textures.
  • Choose at least one from each of the following categories:
    • Cold/marinated
    • A tapas in a sauce
    • A tapas with bread/pastry
    • A tapas that is fried, baked or grilled at the last minute
  • Balance the tapas as far as vegetables, seafood and meat

Now you have sufficient information to have not only a great Tapas party but with the prior two Cooking Tips, you can also serve paella as well as experimenting with other Spanish food. Have fun!

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Paella — Spain in a pan

This is the second Tip in this series on Spanish cooking and is about Paella, one of the national dishes of Spain. It is a very popular dish and I just became aware that it even has its own emoji. 🥘 It would be good to review my prior Tip on Spanish ingredients before diving into how to make Paella.

Paella was originally called arroz a la valenciana, roughly translated “Valencian rice”. The name of paella was given to this dish towards the end of the 19th century, being named after the distinctive pan in which it is cooked. As the original name implies, the dish originated in Valencia, Spain and paella cooks from that area have had their own version since the 1800s, paella valenciana. It originally contained rice, beans and spices along with chicken and snails. Later people began to use rabbit, pork and duck. Some will say that anything other than paella valenciana is simply un arroz en una paella – a rice in a paella pan.

As with so many dishes, there is not just one recipe for paella but there are some common threads. First and foremost, paella is a rice dish. It does usually contain meat and/or seafood although there are also vegetarian versions. However, it is really all about the rice.

If you read much about paella from experts, they will mention certain “rules” for making this dish. However, if you look at recipes or watch videos, you will see there are just as many versions that break all or most of those rules. If you choose to try paella, I want you to have as much success as possible. We will, therefore, start with some of the traditional recommended elements.

Paella pan

As I mentioned before, the name paella refers not only to the dish but to the pan in which it is made. It is a wide, shallow pan with sloping sides and two handles. It is typically made of thin, conductive metal. There are different sizes depending on how many servings there will be. The rice should be in a thin, even layer of about ½ to ¾ inch thick. Advantages of a paella pan are that the rice is in contact with all the wonderful flavors at the bottom of the pan, the rice is able to cook evenly and have quick evaporation resulting in a dry texture with separate grains of rice. Finally, the pan heats and cools quickly so that when the pan is removed from the heat, the rice in the bottom stops cooking immediately.

Most of us home cooks will probably not have a paella pan and will use another pan we already have. However, purists will say that a dish made of similar ingredients but cooked in a different pan is un arroz (a rice) and not a paella.

You may use one or two large skillets, preferably made of stainless steel or aluminum. Avoid cast iron or other heavy skillets that retain heat too much. Because of the limitations of the size of our cooktop burners, don’t use a pan larger than about 12 inches. You can, though, use two skillets. The method of cooking is described below but, if using two skillets, cook the meats and sofrito in one and then divide this between the two skillets, add half the liquid and carry on with the recipe.

A paella pan does need a wide, powerful and uniformly distributed heat source. Traditionally, it is cooked over a wood fire, often with a special frame to hold the pan. Just as most of us will not have a paella pan, we will want to use our cooktops rather than a wood fire. Just realize that the burners will not be an exact fit and you may need to move and rotate the pan to get even cooking.

Rice

You do not want to use just any rice. Rather, you want a short- or medium-grained rice. This type of rice is able to absorb abundant liquid, up to three times its weight, which is more than your typical long grain rice.

Spanish short-grain rice is almost round, its length is only slightly longer than its width. Medium-grain will be a bit longer as compared to its width. Both have a high degree of pearling, which is the concentration of starch in the middle of the grain and gives it its very white color. It also allows for the great absorption and ultimate creaminess of the dish.

Spanish rice is sometimes named for the region where it is grown and sometimes for the rice variety. Some of the regions are Calasparra, Valencia and Delta del Ebro. The short-grain Bomba rice is a particular variety that is grown in all three regions and is the one most often recommended for making paella. It is said to be a little more forgiving in the cooking process and therefore, especially recommended for beginners.

None of these rices will most likely be present in your average supermarket. You will have to look for them in international markets or online. Some non-Spanish options that produce decent results are CalRiso, Calrose, California Blue Rose, Japanese short-grain rice and Italian short-grain rices such as Carnaroli and Arborio.

A standard serving of rice is ½ cup (100 gms) of uncooked rice per person. The amount of rice you use will determine the size of the pan that is needed. When everything is in the pan and the rice is in a thin layer, the liquid should ideally reach the pan’s handles. Here are recommended pan sizes for varying serving amounts.

  • 2-3 people – 12 inches
  • 2-4 people – 14 inches
  • 4-5 people – 16 inches
  • 4-6 people – 18 inches
  • 6-8 people – 20 inches
  • 10 people – 22 inches
  • 12 people – 24 inches
  • 15 people – 26 inches

Do not stretch the pan more than a serving or two beyond the recommended number or the purpose of the pan is defeated. But if you have a large group and only a moderate-sized pan, reduce the amount of rice per person from ½ to ⅓ cup and serve other appetizers and salads.

In your everyday cooking, you may use a 2:1 liquid to rice ratio but with this Spanish short-grain rice, it will be different. The exact rice-to-liquid ratio will vary depending on the size of the pan, the heat source and how dry you want the rice to be. For a dry paella, use 1 cup rice to 2 to 2½ cups liquid. Recall that the Bomba rice can absorb up to three times its weight in liquid.

If you wish to scale the recipe up or down, be sure to keep the rice-to-liquid ratio constant while the size of the pan changes for the number of servings you are cooking.

Olive oil

A mild Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (Spanish, if available) is recommended.

The Sofrito base

El Sofrito is the foundation of nearly every Spanish rice dish (see this Cooking Tip for more info). It is a slow sauté of veggies that includes one or more of onions, green or red bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes. It is gently and slowly cooked into a very soft, almost jam-like base.

Onions are not generally used in paellas as they produce a lot of liquid and can make the rice mushy. That being said, I looked at 15 different paella recipes from different sources and all but two called for onions. If you use onions, be sure to cook them thoroughly until all the moisture is gone.

Tomatoes should be peeled, seeded and finely chopped (known as concassé) before being added to the pan. Alternatively, they can be grated on a box grater. To do this, cut them in half, remove the seeds and grate, discarding the skins. You can also use canned whole tomatoes. (See this Cooking Tip for why you might not want to use canned diced tomatoes.) Strain them, reserving the liquid to add later to the cooking sofrito, and finely chop. The tomatoes must cook until the moisture has evaporated and the texture is very soft.

Saffron

Saffron is what gives paella its yellow color and should not be skipped or substituted. See this Cooking Tip for a discussion of saffron. Some people will just crumble the saffron and add directly to the pan once the liquid is added. Others will “bloom” it in warm stock or wine before adding it.

Paprika

Known as pimentón, there are three kinds of Spanish paprika.

  • Dulce – sweet. This is the one you want to use for paella.
  • Agridulce—bittersweet or semisweet
  • Picante – hot

Socarrat

This not an ingredient but a desired outcome from the cooking method. It is a slightly caramelized crust that forms on the bottom of the pan if cooked properly. It is the favorite part of paella for many people.

Meat and/or Seafood

As mentioned above, the original paella was made with chicken and snails and later with rabbit, pork and duck. In the northwest of Spain and in Portugal, chorizo sausage is added. It adds a depth of flavor and will take on whatever spiciness level is in the sausage you buy.

Outside of Valencia, the most common is what is called “mixed” or “mixta” paella and is normally made with chicken and various types of seafood. As you travel away for the coast of Spain, the paella will contain more meat, especially rabbit, and less fish.

In Murcia, Spain, they make a paella hortelana”, meaning paella of the vegetable garden. It is a vegetarian version made with veggies of your choice and often has a pesto-like sauce made with almonds, garlic and parsley added to it.

Stock

The stock in which you cook the rice is very important for imparting flavor. Therefore, you want to use a great stock, whether it is homemade or store-bought. If the latter, use one with no or low amounts of sodium. The better the stock, the better the rice will be.

Cooking Method

There are certain “rules” for cooking paella if you talk to a paella expert. However, you will see plenty of videos and recipes that break some, if not all, of these rules. I will give you recommendations that are as close to authentic as I can.

Most people begin by browning the meat in olive oil. This not only gives more flavor to the meat but also produces fond on the bottom of the pan, another flavor contributor. Don’t worry about cooking the meat all the way at this point. It will finish cooking later.

Then, as mentioned above, the veggies should be slowly cooked down into a sofrito. Most do this in the same pan, but to speed up the process, you could be doing this in on pan as you are browning the meat in another.

Paprika is then added along with the stock and saffron. (Note above note about blooming the saffron.)

Some recommend bringing the liquid to a boil and adding the rice. Others add the rice to the sofrito, let it fry for a moment and then add the boiling liquid.

Whichever you do, the rice should be cooked, uncovered, at first at a high heat for about 10 minutes and then turned down until the riced is al punto, “at the point”, meaning the rice has just a bit of bite left to it and the bright white nucleus of the kernel has almost disappeared. It will finish cooking during the resting stage.

The liquid needs to be completely evaporated at this point, which is the challenge in cooking a great paella. As the liquid evaporates, there develops the thin, crispy layer of toasted rice on the bottom on the pan, the “socarrat”.

Paella experts will tell you that after the rice is added and you ensure it is totally submerged in the stock, it should not be stirred although you can shake the pan. Stirring interferes with the formation of the socarrat and also releases the starch from the rice kernels. This is what you want with a creamy risotto but not with a paella. You want a dry rice here. Again, I have watched videos where this advice is ignored but I would recommend that you keep your stirring to an absolute minimum.

Finally, it is removed from the heat and covered to rest before being served. It is traditionally eaten right from the pan, not with plates.

If you want to make the paella ahead of time, just make it to the point where you would add the rice. Let it cool, cover and refrigerate if holding it for more than a few hours. Cover with foil to prevent evaporation. When ready to finish, remove foil, bring liquid to boil and finish.

If you want to read more about making paella by someone who learned from his Spanish mother-in-law, I highly recommend the book La Paella by Jeff Koehler.

I must admit that paella is not one of my favorite dishes. Perhaps that is because I have never eaten a truly great one. Have you?

Cooking Tips · Ingredients · Techniques

Asparagus – A Sign of Spring

My husband just harvested the first asparagus spears of the season. Since it is not a long season, I like to make the best of it and serve it in many different ways. With that first harvest I made a wonderful Skillet Asparagus Salad with Goat Cheese from Cooking Light. To encourage you to experiment, I thought I would devote this Cooking Tip to just that subject – Asparagus.

If you are not growing your own asparagus, you need to purchase it at the store. Choose spears with firm stalks and tightly closed tips. Try to buy a bunch with similarly sized stalks for even cooking. When you bring it home, trim a small amount off the bottom of the stalks and place in a jar or glass with a bit of water in the bottom. Cover loosely with a plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator. Change the water daily. It is best, though, to eat it as soon as possible

There are different varieties of asparagus – green, purple and white. Purple asparagus gets its color from anthocyanins, the same pigments that give us other purple food such as grapes. White is just green asparagus this is grown in darkness under the dirt. Because photosynthesis is limited, chlorophyll doesn’t develop and the resulting spears are white.

You will also notice that asparagus spears come in different widths from very thin (pencil) to thick. The thin spears are best for sautéing, steaming or grilling whereas the thick spears are better if you wish to roast or braise them although they can also be steamed or boiled.

When you are ready to eat it, it should be thoroughly washed and then the woody part of the stem removed. Most people teach the “snap” method. Pick up a spear and gently bend it. They are said to naturally snap where the tender part ends and the woody part begins. Cooks Illustrated feels this method is too imprecise and wasteful. They just trim the bottom one inch, which is the woodiest part. Then, they peel the bottom half to expose the white flesh.

Realize that it only takes a short time to properly cook asparagus. Thin asparagus will only take a couple of minutes. Thicker spears will take a few minutes longer.

There are various methods of cooking asparagus.

Steaming

Place asparagus in a steamer basket and cook gently over simmering water just until tender. This method is great for preserving the green color.

Boiling

You can boil asparagus but it will not take very long. If you are not serving it right away, you may want to plunge it into ice water once it is tender to avoid overcooking and loss of color. This is essentially blanching, a method where you cook it in simmering water just until it is tender and then you put it in an ice bath.

Microwave

Place in a microwave-safe dish with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for about 3 minutes. Stir and continue to cook just until tender, another 2 or 3 minutes.

Pan searing

Cooking in a hot skillet with butter/oil is a great and quick method. This is what I did for the above mentioned Asparagus Salad.

Grilling

Lay directly across the grill grates or use a grill basket. You can also grill inside by using a grill pan.

Braising

This method goes against the standard wisdom of cooking asparagus only until it is crisp tender and still bright green. However, Keith Dresser of Cooks Illustrated highly recommends it. To do this, choose the larger spears that are at least ¾ inch thick. Peel the skin until the white skin is exposed, which helps the braising liquid to get into the interior of the stalk. Bring a large skillet of water/chicken broth/olive oil/salt to a simmer and add the asparagus in a single layer. Cook covered until the spears are tender. Remove the lid, continue to cook while shaking the skillet until the pan is almost dry. This creates a light glaze that coats the asparagus. Add flavorings such as lemon/chives or orange/tarragon.

Pan steamed

This method combines the methods of sauteing and steaming. To start with, you put the asparagus into a skillet with water and seasonings, cover and steam it for about 2 minutes. Then, you uncover and cook until almost dry and asparagus is crisp tender.

Roasting

Roasting is a bit tricky because the spears can easily overcook and lose their nice green color by the time they brown. To use this method, choose thicker spears. As with many roasted veggies, putting your baking sheet in the oven while it is preheating is very helpful to getting the right result. This means the spears will start to sear as soon as they hit the hot pan. Cooks Illustrated tested different roasting methods and recommends a very hot oven (500°F) with the baking sheet placed at the lowest position. They caution against shaking or stirring the asparagus while it is cooking. This resulted in asparagus that was crisp-tender, deeply browned on one side and green on the other.

One of my favorite recipes that uses roasted asparagus is from My Recipes, Roasted Asparagus & Arugula Salad with Poached Egg. It is not only extremely tasty but can make an impressive starter or first course for a dinner party.

How you decide to cook your asparagus is your choice. I just encourage you take advantage of this wonderful vegetable during its peak season. Your taste buds will thank you!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

The beautiful Mediterranean way!

I recently wrote a series of Cooking Tips on Healthy Eating and Cooking. Although I did not use the term “Mediterranean”, much of what I wrote about is very consistent with eating a Mediterranean diet. Since this is a very healthy way to cook and eat, I thought I would write this Cooking Tip on that very subject.

The term “Mediterranean cuisine” is not synonymous with the term “Mediterranean diet”. The cuisine of the Mediterranean is of a great variety as there are twenty-one countries bordering the Mediterranean. When the Mediterranean diet is referenced, most are referring to how they eat in Italy, Spain, southern France, Greece, the isle of Crete and the Middle East. All of these have a focus on the following type of diet.

  • Minimally processed, seasonally fresh, locally grown foods
  • Abundant plant foods – vegetables, fruit, cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds
  • Primary source of fat is olive oil
  • Moderately high intake of fresh fish and low intake of poultry and meat
  • Moderate amounts of dairy products, mostly cheese that is not high in fat as well as yogurt
  • Garlic, nuts, herbs, spices all add flavor & interest
  • Potatoes & rice are eaten in restraint
  • Pasta is a side or first course, not a main course
  • Dessert is usually fresh fruit or, in some cases, honey-based sweets
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, preferably from wine and usually with meals

If you wish to start cooking and eating this way, start with stocking your pantry and refrigerator the Mediterranean way. Following is a list of common ingredients although it is far from complete.

  • Olive oil, usually extra-virgin (For a more in-depth discussion of olive oil, see this Tip.)
  • Herbs – common Mediterranean herbs are parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, fennel, bay, tarragon, lemon verbena and oregano. As much as possible, try to use fresh herbs. Oregano might be one exception.
  • Spices – cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, anise, saffron, sumac, za’atar and Aleppo pepper.
  • Dairy – cheese made from sheep’s and goat’s milk as well as yogurt.
  • Beans and lentils
  • Rice and grains, especially ones such as bulgur, farro, barley, wheat berries and quinoa. For more info, see this Tip.
  • Olives
  • Vinegars – balsamic, red wine and white wine
  • Pomegranate molasses – this is reduced pomegranate juice used especially in Middle Eastern and Persian cooking.
  • Preserved lemons – lemons pickled in salt and their own juices. Common in North African dishes.
  • Rose water – water that has been infused with the essence of rose and is often used in Middle Eastern, Indian and Persian cuisines.
  • Harissa – a spicy, fruity chili paste.
  • Tahini – ground sesame seed paste.

Once you have guidelines on ingredients and what to eat, cooking Mediterranean dishes is no different than any other cooking. Having decent knife skills, understanding the different types of cooking (sautéing, steaming, poaching, baking, roasting, etc.), knowing how to use herbs/spices and understanding what NOT to do in the kitchen are all skills that transcend cuisines. Check out my other Tips on these subjects. If you are in the Colorado area, consider booking a class to help you with any or all of these skills. For great ideas on how to cook Mediterranean, consider attending one of these upcoming classes.

Springtime is the perfect time to upgrade your eating and cooking habits to the wonderful Mediterranean way. I hope you give it a try!

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Gnocchi — a different Italian dish

When you think of Italian food, what do you think of? Is it pizza, spaghetti or lasagna? There is so much more to Italian food than that. One of those “other” dishes would be Gnocchi. What gnocchi is, how to make it and how to serve it are the subjects of this Cooking Tip.

The word “gnocchi” actually means “lumps”, although the word is said to derive from the old Lombard phrase knohha, meaning “knot” or from nocca, which means knuckles. We often call these” Potato Dumplings” but they were not always made with potato. This dish dates as far back as the 1300s when it was made from flour or breadcrumbs. A cookbook from 1570 contains a recipe made from flour/breadcrumbs/water and pushed through the holes of a cheese grater. The potato version probably began in the 16th or 17th century.

Since potato gnocchi are the main variety found outside Italy, let’s discuss how to make them. The goal is to make light and airy gnocchi although it is easy to end up with dense and heavy ones if you aren’t careful.

The type of potato is important. Almost all experts recommend using a dry, floury variety like Russets. Some feel that a white all-purpose or a Yukon gold are acceptable but if you have never made them before, stick with the Russet. They have a lower water content and a higher starch content. Because of this, you can add less flour, which means less gluten and an end product that is more tender.

How you cook the potatoes is a bit of a debate. There are those that only recommend baking them in their skins as this will remove moisture. Others feel the potatoes can be boiled but do advise to boil them in the skins to reduce moisture.

Whichever method you use to cook the potatoes, you then want to mash them while they are hot. The absolute best method for this (as well as making mashed potatoes) is to use a ricer. These are inexpensive tools that are worth the money.

After ricing (or mashing), the hot potatoes should be spread out on your cutting board or baking sheet so they cool and to maximize moisture evaporation.

Eggs are not a traditional ingredient although many recipes will add one as it makes an easier to handle gnocchi due to its capacity to help bind the dough together. This prevents the gnocchi from disintegrating in the boiling water. Eggs also add richness to the finished product. The downside is that the egg white can contribute to a denser and chewier gnocchi. Using only the yolk is a great alternative.

Once cool, it is time to make the dough. Mound up the cooled potatoes and start to add a bit of flour and egg, if using. As excess flour is the enemy to light and tender gnocchi, you only want to add as much flour as necessary to get a cohesive dough. Harold McGee says you should need less than 1 cup per pound of potatoes. Cook’s Illustrated recommends weighing your ingredients and using 4 ounces of flour to 16 ounces of riced potatoes. Whatever recipe you follow, do not add all the flour at once. Add it in stages to get the proper result.

The ingredients should be gently kneaded into a dough. Using something like a bench scraper and just scraping and folding can help in preventing over-kneading. Your goal is a moist but not sticky dough.

After you obtain a nice dough, it is portioned and rolled out into a thin rope. It is cut into pieces, generally about ¾ of an inch in size. Shaping into the traditional ridged C-shape is next. This can be done by using a gnocchi board or a fork. A wonderful friend who had lived in Italy gave me a gnocchi board and I love it. It is very easy to use.

For cooking, they are normally gently placed into boiling, salted water and cooked only until they rise to the surface. They are plated and dressed with a sauce. Some find that they can be cooked directly in the sauce without the boiling stage.

Sauces are varied but include marinara, pesto and a butter sauce with sage, herbs and/or garlic. One of my favorites is a sun-dried tomato pesto.

What are the problems that arise in making gnocchi?

  • Dense and chewy gnocchi – this is normally due to adding too much flour and/or kneading too aggressively.
  • Lumpy mashed potatoes – using a ricer will give you a smooth and airy result.
  • Bland flavor – cooking them in salted water and then serving with a flavorful sauce is the answer to this problem.

Every area of Italy has its distinct gnocchi style and sauce.

  • As mentioned above, gnocchi can be made with just flour and water although they will be heavier and denser than potato gnocchi.
  • Gnudi di Ricotta – ricotta dumplings
    • These are more common in Tuscany and use no potatoes. Rather, strained ricotta, egg, breadcrumbs and cheese are combined and rolled into balls before being dusted in semolina. After cooking, they are fried in butter until golden brown.
  • Gnocchi alla Romana – semolina gnocchi
    • This dish originated in Rome and is made with semolina flour. Traditionally, the dough is chilled, cut and baked with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
  • Gnocchi Parisienne
    • This is a French version of gnocchi. The base is a choux pastry (the dough used to make profiteroles.) The dough is dropped into water via a piping bag to cook followed by putting them into a pan of butter to crisp up. Finally, it is dressed with lemon juice and herbs.
  • Malloreddus
    • Eaten on the Italian island of Sardinia, this variety is made with only semolina flour and water, sometimes colored with saffron. This results in a denser and chewier gnocchi.
    • The traditional sauce is Campidanese, a sausage, tomato and fennel ragu.
  • Malfatti
    • These are very colorful as they are made from ricotta, spinach and Parmesan bound together by semolina and egg. They tend to be larger than other gnocchi, about the size of a golf ball.

Fresh gnocchi can be frozen uncooked for up to 2 months. Boil them frozen although it will take a bit longer. Store cooked gnocchi in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Have you made gnocchi? Although they do take a bit of practice and patience, they can be a delightfully different Italian meal.

Cooking Tips · Techniques

Preheating your pan — Truth or Myth

Many of you may know that I really do not like it when “Culinary Myths” are passed down without any thought to whether those myths are really true or not. This happens at all levels from home cooks to experienced chefs. I have already written two Cooking Tips on a number of such culinary myths. In this Tip, I want to discuss another topic that falls into this category. That is whether or not you preheat your pan before adding the fat.

I was taught a certain way in culinary school and just accepted it as fact. However, when you start to do a deeper dive into this subject, it is not as clear cut. I was taught that you heat your pan before adding the oil. There are also other individuals, well-respected in the culinary world, that also advise that. Because of this, I have often taught this to those who have attended my cooking classes. I began to wonder about the accuracy of this recommendation and decided to investigate.

There are two main reasons why preheating the pan before adding oil is advised. They are fat degradation and food sticking. You may also hear arguments about even food cooking and the pores in a pan.

Fat degradation

Some feel that the longer the fat is in the pan being heated (such as would happen when you add the fat to the pan before heating it), the more likelihood there is of that fat breaking down into unpleasant and even unhealthy compounds.

While this may make sense on the surface, it really doesn’t when one considers that the fat will not start to deteriorate until it reaches its “smoke-point”. It doesn’t matter whether that fat is added to a cold or hot pan. All that matters is the temperature at which the respective fat starts to break down.

Here is a chart on smoke-points of various types of fat. As you can see from that chart, other than butter, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil and some nut oils, the smoke-points are above 360°F and often as high as 500°F. This is higher than you are going to use in most cooking situations. Therefore, the concern for fat degradation as a reason to preheat your pan really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny in most cases.

Food sticking

This reason goes like this adage – “Hot Pan, Cold Oil, Food Won’t Stick”. What makes food stick to a pan is if the pan isn’t hot enough. If you do not add your food until your pan is hot, it really doesn’t matter whether you put the oil in at the beginning of heating or after the pan is hot. If you put your food into a cold pan, it will stick no matter if there is oil in it or not.

If you heat your pan and add the “cold” oil (more like room temperature oil), the oil heats up immediately. You can see this for yourself by watching how quickly the oil starts to shimmer. As others have pointed out, the adage is incorrect in and of itself as in reality, it is “Hot Pan, Hot Oil, Food Won’t Stick.”

Pores in the pan

I was taught in culinary school that if you preheat your pan dry, the pores in it (microscopic holes) will close up allowing the oil to glide on the surface and prevent sticking. The proponents of this argue that if food is added before these pores close up, the pores will grab onto the food and cause sticking. However, the closure of the pores is a matter of the pan heating up, not when you add the oil. So, once again, make sure your pan is at the right temperature before adding the food.

Even cooking

If you put your fat into a cold pan and heat it, you will notice that the fat tends to pool around the side. Because of this, the temperature of your pan is going to be different at different spots. Some experts feel this will lead to uneven cooking. However, the difference in pan temperature occurs regardless of when you add the oil. It may be a good reason to make sure you are cooking with good quality cookware, which is more likely to heat evenly, but it is not a reason for preheating the pan before adding the oil.

With all that in mind, what is the home cook to do? For most situations, whether or not you preheat your pan before adding the oil really doesn’t matter. There are a few exceptions to this declaration. Here are some guidelines.

  1. Almost always make sure your pan is hot before adding the food. Add the oil either before you start heating the pan or after it is hot but do not add the food until all is hot.

  2. One exception to this is if you are cooking on a very gentle heat, such as sweating veggies or cooking fresh herbs or spices. In this case, you do not need to wait until your pan is hot. You can add both oil and ingredients to a cold pan and proceed to cook over a gentle heat. Many chefs feel that slower, more gentle heat/oil draws out more flavor. Too much heat can deactivate some flavor-producing enzymes in the allium family (onions, garlic) and/or drive off aromatic/flavorful essential oils in the herbs and spices.

  3. If you want to sear a piece of protein to get that wonderful, flavorful crust, you may want to heat your pan first and then add the oil. If you have heated your pan so that it is above the smoke-point of your preferred fat, this will minimize the time that fat is in the extreme heat. Realize though, that fat degradation starts immediately upon reaching the smoke-point. If you are using something with a low smoke-point (such as butter) heat your pan, add your butter, add your protein and cook quickly. Another option is if you are using oil, you can brush the oil on the protein before putting it in the hot pan. That also leads to less splattering.

  4. If you are pan frying or deep-fat frying, this takes much more oil than the typical sauteing or searing process. It could be quite dangerous to add this amount of oil to a hot pan. You are much better off adding the oil to a cold pan and heating them together.

  5. The type of pan makes a difference.
    • Never pre-heat a dry non-stick pan. High heat can quickly cause the coating on such a pan to break down. Although non-stick pans do have their place (cooking eggs, making crepes, cooking delicate fish), they should not be used for any high-heat application.
    • Although rare, a cast-iron pan could crack if heated dry.
    • The thermal shock of adding cold oil to a preheated enameled cast-iron pot could cause cracking.
    • Check the instructions from your cookware manufacturer. Some advise against heating a dry pan.

So, there you go – another Culinary Myth busted. See my other two Tips (Part 1, Part 2) for more culinary myths. Have your ever heard anything about cooking and/or baking that you want investigated? Let me know.