Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 3, 2010
Cooks are often terrified of food sticking to a pan but needn't be. When you're cooking a chicken breast, for example, heat an empty pan and when it's hot but not smoking hot, add a little bit of oil. Tilt the pan so the oil covers the surface of the pan. Add your chicken breast then have a Zen moment. Be at peace with the universe, have a sip of zinfandel; don't touch the chicken even though it's stuck to the pan.
The chicken breast will stay stuck until the surface is cooked. When the proteins on the surface cook, coagulate and lightly brown, they will release all by themselves. It will take at least 90 seconds, an eternity. But remember the Zen moment, slip a spatula under the chicken and turn it over.
When you plunge a happy little green bean into boiling water, the cell walls break and leak out acids from the interior of the cells, leading to mass death and destruction. Cook green beans too long and their color goes from bright green to army grey.
For tender, bright green beans, cook them (and other green vegetables) for 7 minutes or less, avoiding the complete loss of acids and color change. And don't put acidic dressings on green vegetables until just before serving.
Adding salt to boiling water to cook vegetables is a good idea. How much to use? A half-cup of salt to a gallon of water is what Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry uses. But it depends on the salt: 1/4 cup regular table salt = 3/8 cup Morton's kosher salt = 1/2 cup Diamond kosher salt.
It's a good idea to rinse your vegetables when they're cooked: A bowl of ice cold water removes salt and stops the cooking process.
While acids turn green beans grey, it will keep red vegetables like red cabbage from turning blue. Acids in the cabbage evaporate when heated, so add a little lemon juice or vinegar to keep the color. Apples work, too.
Sugar is a key ingredient in holding the shape of fruits and vegetables. Think about Boston baked beans and how the beans hold their shape and don't get mushy even though they are cooked for hours. Key ingredients are molasses that contains calcium and sugar, and brown sugar, important in keeping cell walls from falling apart and holding cells together while cooking.
Sugar pulls out liquid from fruit like apples. Toss sliced apples, destined for a pie, with sugar and let it stand for four hours in a colander to drip. You'll have liquid you can boil down to a syrup. Stir this back into the apples when you're ready to bake. And because apples have had a coating of sugar, they're likely to hold their shape.