Let’s think about temperature and the harmony of ingredients at sympathetic temperatures and density. Let’s use all of our senses.
A stainless steel stir spoon, a wooden kitchen spoon, A 12 in. saute pan, a 2 quart sauce pan, and an 8 quart stock pot.
Let’s take this saute pan in our hand. It is stainless with a heavy bottom. The handle is curved back and away to balance this weight. Twirl the pan, by the end of the handle, clockwise and counter clockwise, back-and-forth, to feel where its center of gravity lies. Place it on the stove top and by the edge of the handle, tip it up on edge on the burner and then push the handle down to tip it’s edge toward you. You know where it’s natural center is and in what way it sits on this stove top.
Let’s reduce 1 quart of heavy cream in this saute pan on a medium rolling boil. Simultaneously let’s imagine we are doing the same in a straight edge, 2 quart sauce pan. At a medium boil, we can see the difference in how the heavy cream is reacting in these different environments. The saute pan has more surface area in which the cream may expand; the sauce pan has more depth that the cream must work against. Therefore, the action is quicker in the saute pan. The sauce pan would require a whisk and more attention; the saute pan- we could pretty much leave to its own devices. The saute pan is better for this job. We remove the sauce pan.
Let’s be a little daring and turn the heat up medium high to high on the saute pan. Now, we do this all the time in restaurants. All. The. Time. But that doesn’t mean you should too : ) Honestly, I think half the time we do it to irritate other line cooks, “Is he watching that?”
Let’s stick with it. We can do this. Just stand back and watch it.
The bubbles are quick, airy, and dissipating rapidly. The volume of the cream is rising quickly now to the top edge of the saute pan and doming up in the middle. We can still do this. Don’t panic. We are still safe because there is a lot of water left to evaporate. No harm will come until we start the opposite trend of losing volume.
We see the many bubbles starting to condense into networks and then into shared bubbles. You can sense water is leaving. You see it in the steam. When we start to see the edges of the pan again and a latticework of a thin film on those edges, that’s when we cut it back to medium heat. At this point, the cream is absolutely talking to you and so is the pan. The cream is telling you how much water is evaporating in the reduction of bubbles to more centralized areas and the pan is telling you, “see that film on my edges? If that turns brown, it will dirty the taste. Also, by the way…pots that are difficult to wash, means you’re doing a shitty job. Thanks.”
Okay Mr. Saute Pan. Let’s swirl the pan around a little and pick up the stainless steel spoon with your other hand. Rub the edge of the spoon along the rim of the pan to reincorporate the edge of the liquid into the center. That didn’t feel right, did it. Try it with the wooden spoon. Better, right? The steel against steel feels wrong. It feels like an attack. The wooden spoon is not scraping the steel. It’s density lies somewhere between the liquid and the strength of steel and therefore is harmonious in our efforts to work between them.
When we have reduced the cream to a nape, or just about a thickened sauce, turn off the heat. work the wooden spoon around the edges and gently swirl the saute pan. We have a good feel for the reduction. It is at this point, neither a finished product nor the cream we started with. It is a blank slate of possibilities.
We can think of an Alfredo sauce. Heat up any combination of shallots and/or garlic in the 2 quart sauce pan with butter or olive oil. You can heat until the shallots/garlic are soft or go further until they are golden brown. You can deglaze with white wine, or chicken stock or not. You could hit it with some cracked black pepper and salt. whatever you want.
The thing is, here at this point, the important part is consistency and temperature. If we are going to add Parmesan cheese to the thickened cream, we want them in a sympathetic state. If you have real, dry parm shreds, best to have the cream closer to 120 degrees F than anywhere near boiling. If you are using the store bought cheese in a shake jar, you’re going to be fine as long as the cream isn’t boiling.
Also, if we are going to get all authentic and add an egg yolk or two, I recommend having that nape at the 120 degrees or so and beat in the egg yolk dramatically in this separate saute pan before adding to the sauce pan. I think you probably see recipes call for adding the egg yolk last. Don’t do it if you have this sauce at final serving temperature. The chance you’re going to have a scrambled egg mixed in with Alfredo sauce is high, plus, this isn’t a homogeneous sauce like that. Work the cream and egg yolk together so they have their own thing going on as if you were making Hollandaise. Add this mixture to the sauteed and deglazed shallots over medium heat, get the wooden spoon working, lower the temperature as low as it will go, keep stirring, get a feel for the temperature and density. Slowly add the cheese. Look at what is going on. Stick your finger in there. It is effortlessly incorporating at a sympathetic density and temperature. If you’d like to mix pasta in, they should be dry and still warm. Wet pasta will make a sloppy mess. Cool pasta won’t want to naturally incorporate. Sympathy.
Now let’s back up to when we just had a warm nape of semi-thickened cream. Right here is where you would slowly add cheddar if you were making a cheese sauce. Not at high temperature, not thin. It must be in agreeance with the cheese. By the same token, the density of the cheese must be sympathetic to the cream, so shred it. Take your time here. It’s you, the cream, and the cheese doing your thing. You all want to work together.
Same thing for a cheese soup. The density and temperature must be compatible. You are using all of your senses to be in the moment and aware. Taste, listen, look, smell, touch.
Back up to the nape of cream. Remember, it’s a blank slate. maybe now you work in four egg yolks with a whisk. Beat that mother like you really mean it. Put it back on low heat. Keep working it. You add vanilla, sugar, and ground nutmeg and maybe a cinnamon stick. Taste it. You line a 6 inch desert plate with the sweet sauce, plop a slice of blackberry pie in the middle, and dot the edges of the sauce with 6 fresh blackberries. BOOM. BANG. Yum.
Again. You sear a crack black pepper and sea-salt covered filet of beef at medium high temperature in a saute pan; about 2 minutes a side. Stick that saute pan under a broiler until medium rare. Remove the pan with a towel. Deglaze the saute pan with 1/2 cup cognac at medium high temp then switch to low once the flames burn off (never add alcohol directly over, or near the heat source. Be careful, this bad boy is gonna flame up something fierce). Place the steak on your service plate. Add 1/4 cup of the warm, reduced cream in the deglazed pan. Swirl the pan around. Watch the cognac and the cream join together and create their own thing going on in there. Those guys want to be together at this lower temperature. Serve over the filet. This is also- yum.
Now, take the stock pot and run some water into it in the sink. Swirl it around in there. It might be a little dusty from sitting around for a couple months. The truth is though, you’re getting a feel for it’s weight and communing for a moment : )
When you make any stock, low temperature is best. Just a burble-burble slow slow roll. If it is meat based, you’ll always get a better stock from roasted bones and the close, surrounding flesh rather than throwing some raw pieces in hot water. So that chicken you baked last night, or veal bones roasted in the oven. The reason being, is because the more condensed your ingredients are, the more desperately water wants to get in there and do it’s thing.
If we’re working with a roast chicken from last night, remove most of the fat. Not all, but most. Pluck the meat for either sandwiches or re-entry into a finished soup. For last nights baked ham, work only with the central bone and the dark flesh surrounding it; no exterior fat whatsoever because ham is naturally very fatty. Think of any fat you are using as separating and rising to the top of the pot. It does not wish to be incorporated, although it shall add some flavor. If you have a stock whose entire top is covered with a thick layer of fat, it is going to take a lot of work to get that into a decent finished product.
When you are enjoying a really, really good soup, look at spoonfuls as you are about to eat. Look at everything that’s going on there. There’s a complexity of many ingredients coming together in bite-able chunks and tiny little bubbles of fat and minuscule particles all bound together on a spoon. We want our stock to be the foundation of what we are about to create. To this end- a slow rolling burble burble.
See how the major pieces of debris sink to the bottom and very little lakes of undisturbed fat float to the top? Look into the large slowly forming bubbles. Get your eyeballs in there and look reeeeeaaaaalll good. Sediment of the flesh and your vegetable ends and a free floating bouquet garni (it is better to not get all fancy and segregate your herbs to a cloth bag, just tie twigs of thyme around your bunch, let it be free and frolic around ) roll round and round and wave at each other.
You will know when you’ve gotten the most out of your stock, because it will tell you. The major pieces on the bottom are flat out done, your herbs have given everything they have. The vegetables will soon turn to mush.
Because you cooked this for hours at a slow heat, you can easily skim everything off the top right now…right now, and use it as a soup base, or deglazing liquid, or ingredient in a sauce. You can sieve out the debris and return the liquid to the same pot, because it’s essentially clean. Nothing is binding to the sides, there’s no fat, and it’s at a sympathetic temperature to be used in anything you are about to create.
All of The Intuitive Meal so far