Basic Cooking Principles - how to apply them to my cooking?

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Beginning2Cook

Assistant Cook
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Aug 29, 2022
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5
Location
Auckland
So I learned that most proteins in meat coagulate between 71-85 degrees Celsius. I interpret that to mean that if I want to be good at cooking meat I should try and keep the temperate being applied to meat within the range.

However, I am unsure how I would be able to judge this when using a stove? In my experience, the settings on stove tops give "low-med-high" or "1-10" options. Is there any way that I can figure out if the low setting on a stove top is what I need to heat my meat to between 71-85 degrees Celsius?

I am pretty sure that "high" or "10" is going to be too much heat, but I am less sure about low, or medium low, or medium.

In terms of seering meat, I also learned that the temperature on the outside of meat needs to reach 154 degrees Celsius in order to undergo the maillard reaction and create browning. Once again, I am unsure how I am able to tell if the pan is the right temperature to seer the meat.

As I also want to be able to cook good food while camping, any suggestions that do not involve a thermometer would also be very helpful - if this is even possible.

Any help would be appreciated.

My Culinary Skill: 1/10.
 

GotGarlic

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Hi and welcome to Discuss Cooking [emoji2]

It doesn't work quite that way because there are many factors involved, not just the temperature at which proteins coagulate. People often want a cut of meat or poultry to have a nicely browned surface because that browning contains a lot of great flavor.

You don't need to be concerned with exactly how hot your pan is - get it hot over medium-high heat and turn it down after you get your protein going. You can test it by throwing a few drops of water into the pan. It should sizzle immediately and dance across the pan. If it disappears immediately, it's too hot.

Of course it's possible to cook without a thermometer. People have been doing that for many thousands of years. It just takes some experience.

If you're interested in a good book on the basics of cooking, I recommend this: Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook's Manifesto - https://www.amazon.com/Ruhlmans-Twenty-Techniques-Recipes-Manifesto/dp/0811876438/
 

Beginning2Cook

Assistant Cook
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Aug 29, 2022
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Location
Auckland
Hi and welcome to Discuss Cooking

Thank you, good to be here.

get it hot over medium-high heat and turn it down after you get your protein going.

  1. So medium heat would mean turning the dial on the stove half-way right? And then if I want medium high, I turn the dial 3/4 of the way?
  2. What would I turn the heat down to?
  3. When you say "after you get your protein going", do you mean after the meat has browned on the outside?

If you're interested in a good book on the basics of cooking, I recommend this: Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A Cook's Manifesto - https://www.amazon.com/Ruhlmans-Twen...dp/0811876438/

Thank you, I will add it to my reading list (I currently have two books I am working through).
 

dragnlaw

Site Team
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Could you give us some examples of foods you have prepared? How did they turn out? Are you cooking on gaz, electric, induction? Regular or non-stick pans.

I would suggest you start watching some videos on cooking. They don't have to be exactly what you want to cook (although that would be a bonus) but it would give you samples of what to loook for and the results you would get.

You have to learn what/how your stove works. I have one burner that at 3/4 to the full on, is waay too hot to continue cooking on. Sadly, we can't tell you at what point your burner is too hot or not hot enough. But you have to describe what you are doing or exactly what you are going for in order for us to help.

GG's example of a pan being the right temp is excellent! A couple of drops of water will bounce across the pan when it is right to perhaps to pancakes or sear some meat. But if the water explodes and vaporises immediately - that's way too hot.

Bacon, for example, I put in a cold pan and bring it up to Med-Low. I don't want the pan too hot or the bacon sticks. I like to render the fat out of bacon slowly - I find (for me) I get nice crispy bacon without burning or having raw fat still globbing about.
 

taxlady

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The other good thing about starting the bacon on a cold pan at a lowish temperature is that you don't need to put any grease on the pan. By the time the pan is warm enough that the bacon would stick to it, the bacon has already rendered enough fat to prevent that.
 

pepperhead212

Executive Chef
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Woodbury, NJ
Welcome to the forum!

I can't add much to what the others have told you, except to tell you that if you are using a non-stick pan, unless it is one of the ceramic types, don't use it for high heat cooking, to brown things. While it is extremely rare, overheating of teflon, a.k.a. PTFE, causes toxic fumes. For high heat browning of meats, and things like blackened fish, cast iron is best, or high carbon steel, and other uncoated pans. The ceramic non-stick are safe, but I wouldn't use mine for that kind of cooking. You may have known all this already, if so, great. I also saw you are in New Zealand, and they probably have laws as strict as ours, about the old teflon pans, with PFOA used in making the teflon - not used here for almost 10 years, but still found in some countries.

 

Andy M.

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Welcome to the forum!

I can't add much to what the others have told you, except to tell you that if you are using a non-stick pan, unless it is one of the ceramic types, don't use it for high heat cooking, to brown things. While it is extremely rare, overheating of teflon, a.k.a. PTFE, causes toxic fumes. For high heat browning of meats, and things like blackened fish, cast iron is best, or high carbon steel, and other uncoated pans. The ceramic non-stick are safe, but I wouldn't use mine for that kind of cooking. You may have known all this already, if so, great. I also saw you are in New Zealand, and they probably have laws as strict as ours, about the old teflon pans, with PFOA used in making the teflon - not used here for almost 10 years, but still found in some countries.


While what you're saying is technically true, It's unlikely a non-stick skillet actively cooking with food in it will come close to the temps needed to cause problems.

On the other hand, if you put an empty an on a lighted burner to preheat and forget about it, you could have problems.
 

dcSaute

Sous Chef
Joined
Apr 24, 2011
Messages
918
@Beginning2Cook

you are over thinking things.
first, one cannot magically become expert after reading a book.
it takes real live experience to understand/appreciate stuff you read - in a book or on Forums.


heat levels:
virtually every cook top has marks and absolutely all the marks vary when one is talking low/medium/high temps.
so, first . . . attune your ears to the sound of things bubbling/sizzling/frying in the pan.
when you hear very intense sounds and the meat burns . . . yeah, well, that's too hot.
when you hear very muted sounds and the meat only turns color . . . that's a bit too cool.


the theory of a pan surface temp = to the desired finish temp is . . . ah,,,, not realistic.
setting a water sous vide temp, that's how it works . . . after hours of cooking.
but for frying/sauting - not a valid approach.


also understand - "browning" a meat cut does not mean just making it turn from red to brown. browning means creating a crust of varying 'severity' - and that takes high heat and a measure of time.
when I want to "brown" a good steak, I take cast iron / carbon steel pan, lubed with safflower or olive oil, heated to the smoking point. enter the beef, 3-4 minutes on first side, flip, 3-4 minutes second side, pop it in a 350' oven to finish cooking thru. oven time depends on the thickness of the meat - use an instant read thermometer to get the rare/medium/well done state you desire.
personally I have an issue: DW prefer zero red stuff, I like medium rare. my solution on high end beef - prime tenderloin, et al - is to do the sear thing, then slice hers in half, so the thinner 'slices' make all the red disappear, but leave my full thickness rare to medium rare. one does what one is needed to do....
 

Beginning2Cook

Assistant Cook
Joined
Aug 29, 2022
Messages
5
Location
Auckland
Thanks for all your advice everyone. To answer some questions:

Could you give us some examples of foods you have prepared?

  • Beef soup.
  • Chicken soup
  • Beetroot soup
  • Cabbage soup
  • Lamb Casserole
  • Chicken stew

  • Roast chicken
  • Steak

  • Various curries from jars.

  • Vegetarian chilli
  • Beef chilli

How did they turn out?
I enjoyed everything I have cooked except for the cabbage soup. Others who tried the food also enjoyed it (or at least said it was good).

Are you cooking on gaz, electric, induction? Regular or non-stick pans.

The oven is electric. I almost always use either a cast iron skillet or what I would call a "frying pan" for frying. I am not how to tell if the frying pan is non-stick. Thinks don't stick to it - but that could be because I am not cooking thinks that normally stick or I am using the cast iron skillet. I don't make an intelligent decision around whether to use the frying pan or skillet, usually it just comes down to how big the meal will be - the frying pan holds more than the skillet.

For my soups I use a stainless steel pot. For casseroles/stews I use a casserole dish.

My cooking problems all starting about 6 months ago when I was hungry and found myself in a fancy restaurant. I had never been to a fancy restaurant in my entire life and had always thought that a fancy restaurant essentially charges people lots of money for food presentation, politeness, and reputation (i.e. so that you can tell your friends you went to a fancy restaurant for your birthday or anniversary etc etc). I simply went there because I was hungry and there was no other food places close that were not busy.

I was shocked at the quality of the food. I had never tasted pork as good as this restaurant produced. Absolutely amazing. The salad was the nicest salad I had ever eaten. The crackling was cooked perfectly - it was crunchy but without a salty flavour.

At that point I became aware that there is a way to cook food that is significantly better than the food I have ever cooked, as well as being significantly better than anyone else's food I had ever tasted. I have been trying to get my cooking up to the standard where I can cook food that is as good as a 5 star restaurant because frankly, I can't afford to go to a restaurant like the one I went to more than once a decade. I would love to eat food like that every day.

My assumption is that the chef was able to get the food so perfect because they were super careful with timing and temperature. But I am still at the beginning of my journey.

EDIT: So it is not that I have not been able to brown my meat like chicken (I do this regularly), it is more that the food does not yet remind me of the quality of food I had at this restaurant. So I assume I need more precision. Perhaps I am not browning the meat enough or perhaps I am browning it at too high a temperature.

Appreciate the advice. Key take aways for me at the moment are:

1. Learn about your own oven.
2. Throw some water on the stove - if it sizzles, it's a good temperature. If it evaporates immediately, the surface is too hot.
 
Last edited:

GotGarlic

Chef Extraordinaire
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Southeastern Virginia
Browning the meat is just the first step in building flavor. Adding other ingredients at the right time and letting them cook for the right period of time are also important.
 

IC 2.0

Cook
Joined
Aug 17, 2022
Messages
72
Location
Honolulu, HI
Practice, practice, practice. That's the only way you'll get better and improve. Take chances, and cook things out of your comfort zone. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, and more importantly, LEARN from those mistakes. The worst thing you'll do is ruin a piece of chicken or steak. So what? Throw it away and do it differently next time.

Take notes so you know what to adjust and tweak for next time.

Watch lots of cooking videos by actual chefs so you get a better idea of what proper technique is. I learned a ton by watching old school Molto Mario and The Essence of Emeril way back when. Most people are visual learners and a lot of cooking is visual.

Bottom line is there's no magic path to becoming a better cook. It's a practical skill that one needs to keep working at.
 

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