Monday, November 25, 2019

Hint: How to Break Down an Onion

Recorded October 30, 2013. Revised November 25, 2019. Onions are used widely in cooking, and usually need to be broken down before use. The methods described here respect the anatomy of the onion, and exploit its properties for culinary purposes. Two forms of slicing are described, one which favors retention of form and the other its loss. A combination of the two slicing methods leads to dice or mince.

The globe of an onion plant, 'an onion', is formed by concentric layers of pale watery leaves, the lamellae, that grow from the root below ground, and continue above ground as green leaves.  Onions are monocots, meaning their vessels run parallel to each other from root to leaf tip. This means that a slice in the 'polar' direction, that is, parallel to polar axis along a radius, will cause the least cellular damage. I refer to this as a 'blossom cut' because it results in petal-like pieces. Use this when you want onion pieces to keep their shape after cooking. Alternatively, a cut in the equatorial plane, the 'cross cut', slices through all the cells that make up the vessels, the xylem and phloem, that conduct the watery solutions up and down the plant during growth. This produces maximal cellular injury (and release of syn-propanethial-S-oxide, the tearful chemical). Use this cut when you want the onions to break down, such as for caramelized onions.

By combining cuts in the polar and equatorial planes, of course, dice result. A single piece of onion can't be any thicker than the thickness of the lamella from which it was cut. The lamellae change in thickness across the radius and so uniform dice are not possible irrespective of the slicing strategy. For large dice, I cut thick, equatorial slices and then, holding the slices together, along the radii toward the center following the shallow grooves on the surface. Fast, safe, and optimal uniformity.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Quick Gravy

Developed November, 2019. A rapid microwave recipe for a gravy that is suitable for many purposes. It can top chicken, beef, pork, vegetables, or seafood dishes depending on which stock concentrate is used. We recommend the Better Than Bouillon™ product line.
1 c tap water
2 t stock concentrate
pinch of GP Seasoning
1 T tapioca (or corn) starch
Whisk the ingredients together thoroughly in a microwavable container. One that doubles for storage is handy. Heat on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until the mixture boils and thickens, taking care that it not boil over. Yields about a cup. Easily doubled.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Crusty Potato Puffs

Developed Summer, 2019. By adding oil and coarse semolina, frozen potato puffs become a special side dish.
8 oz potato puffs (Alexia™ is good)
1 oz vegetable oil
2 T coarse semolina flour
1 t onion powder
1 t salt
Preheat a toaster oven to 400 F. Let the potatoes thaw in a shallow baking pan. Drizzle on the oil, coat by rolling the pan, sift on the semolina, onion powder, and salt. Roll the pan again to cover the potato puffs with the seasonings. Bake 15 minutes. Stir, raise heat to 425, and bake another 5 minutes. Serves two but can be easily doubled.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Line-Cook Seafood Chowder

Developed November, 2019.This delicious chowder is adapted from a recipe posted to Reddit by a line cook who described it as a “signature soup at my restaurant Patrons love it, and I think you will too.” I agree. Well-balanced, creamy, and economical.
1 oz vegetable or olive oil
½ c (125 ml) chopped red onion
1 c (250 ml) diced celery
½ c (125 ml) diced carrot
3 c (650 g) diced yellow potatoes, skins on
1 T minced garlic
1 T salt
1 10-oz can baby clams with juice + 1.5 cans of water
1 T chicken stock concentrate
250 g cod fillet, or other firm white fish, cut into half-inch cubes
½ T ground black pepper
1 c (250 ml) half and half
2 c (500 ml) milk
1 T dry dill weed
1 T Old Bay seasoning
For the roux:
½ c (one stick) butter
½ c all-purpose flour
In a 6-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the vegetables, garlic, and salt. Heat thoroughly with stirring, cover, and turn off heat. Let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Add the clams, clam juice, water, salt, pepper, and the stock concentrate. Cook over medium heat for 10 more minutes. Add the cod to the pot, and simmer for 5 more minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, in a small non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. When the bubbling stops, slowly stir in the flour. Cook about 4 minutes with constant stirring until the roux turns a light tan and is smooth. Combine the cream and the milk in a large measuring cup, and off heat, slowly pour half the cold dairy into the roux with continuous whisking. When smooth, mix with rest of the dairy remaining in the cup. Stir the roux mixture into the chowder, add the dill weed and Old Bay, and heat to a fast simmer with stirring until the chowder thickens into a smooth creamy texture. Yields about 2-1/2 quarts (liters). Serve with oyster crackers or hot biscuits.