With Think Like a Chef, Tom Colicchio has created a new kind of cookbook. Rather than list a series of restaurant recipes, he uses simple steps to deconstruct a chef's creative process, making it easily available to any home cook.
He starts with techniques: What's roasting, for example, and how do you do it in the oven or on top of the stove? He also gets you comfortable with braising, saut�ing, and making stocks and sauces. Next he introduces simple "ingredients" -- roasted tomatoes, say, or braised artichokes -- and tells you how to use them in a variety of ways. So those easy roasted tomatoes may be turned into anything from a vinaigrette to a caramelized tomato tart, with many delicious options in between.
In a section called Trilogies, Tom takes three ingredients and puts them together to make one dish that's quick and other dishes that are increasingly more involved. As Tom says, "Juxtaposed in interesting ways, these ingredients prove that the whole can be greater than the sum of their parts," and you'll agree once you've tasted the Ragout of Asparagus, Morels, and Ramps or the Baked Free-Form "Ravioli" -- both dishes made with the same trilogy of ingredients.
The final section of the books offers simple recipes for components -- from zucchini with lemon thyme to roasted endive with whole spices to boulangerie potatoes -- that can be used in endless combinations.
Written in Tom's warm and friendly voice and illustrated with glorious photographs of finished dishes, Think Like a Chef will bring out the master chef in all of us.
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November 13, 2007
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Excerpt from Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio
My partner at Gramercy Tavern, Danny Meyer, likes to say that the best way to get people to try something new is to let them know it is roasted. The term manages to conjure comfort food and adventurous cooking simultaneously, along with an image of gorgeously browned edges and caramelized flavor. Lamb, beef, pork, venison, rabbit, squab, chicken and turkey, foie gras, whole fish, fish fillets, lobster, almost every vegetable: you name it, I roast it.
Roasting, simply put, is cooking with dry heat, traditionally over or in front of an open flame. Most often, the word "roast" implies oven cooking, but I use the word as shorthand for both oven roasting and pan roasting. They are both the exact same technique, but oven roasting, as the name implies, involves transferring the pan to a hot oven to complete the process. Pan roasting finishes the food in the same pan, on top of the stove.
As a rule, I prefer pan roasting. It allows me to effect a transformation on something almost immediately. Roasting in an oven cheats me of the audible, visual, and tactile cues that are such a gratifying step of the cooking process. For some people, the end result alone--the perfectly browned sea bass, the crisp chicken--is the point, but for me the process of browning the meat, watching the sugars in the surface caramelize, and listening to the sizzling sound of the butter, the sputter as the moisture in the herbs meets the juices in the pan, is as satisfying as the result. Watching as the dish transforms from a group of separate, inert ingredients into a new thing altogether is rewarding even before the first bite. When you learn to pan roast for yourself, a practical benefit is that in time you'll come to recognize the audible and visual cues of correctly cooked food, and you'll find yourself relying less and less on the times and temperatures printed in any recipe.
If I had all day I imagine I'd even cook larger roasts this way. But I don't, and neither do you. Transferring a large piece of meat or fish to the oven allows you to complete the process without standing for hours next to the stove, turning the food. That is not to say that you can transfer a roast to the oven and forget about it. You can't. Even in the oven, the surface that is in contact with the hot pan will roast more quickly than the rest, and the food still needs to be basted. But, loosely speaking, oven roasting allows you to free up the stovetop and yourself (somewhat) to work on something else.
Basic roasting technique
These steps apply to pan roasting and oven roasting alike.
1.Brown the food on top of the stove, in a pan with a small amount of oil, at about medium heat. Browning helps to get the cooking started, moves the juices toward the center of the roast, and ensures a nicely cooked exterior. Don't worry about the food sticking to the pan during this step. If you pat it completely dry first, use only medium or medium-high heat, and be patient, the food will release itself from the pan when it's browned. You'll know when you've attained the correct heat by the "sound" of the pan: The oil should sizzle, but not pop and sputter, as the food cooks.
2.Avoid using high heat, both on the stove and in the oven (temperatures of 325� F. to 375� F. usually work best). Although it is tempting to roast at a high heat, you'll get the best results in terms of flavor and texture by treating the ingredients gently. Contrary to what many recipes say, you do not need to start the oven at a higher temperature, then lower it halfway through.
3.Add some butter to the pan about three-quarters of the way through cooking. It will melt quickly and commingle with the juices from the roast, creating a liquid for basting. This is usually when I add some herbs to the pan. Baste the roast with the liquids in the pan.