So You Want to Cook Like a Pro, but Don’t Know How (Part Two: 1 of 2): The Ingredients)

Hey guys hope you enjoyed part one of this series on the “The Tools“. Now that you have those we need to talk about ingredients. These are the components that will make up your culinary masterpieces.

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Fruits and Vegetables

These great pieces can be an aside or finishing touch to a meal or they can be the main event themselves. Fruits and vegetables can be the missing piece to any meal. They give certain dishes that little something extra. There are as you know a multitude of vegetables and with so many its hard to give a rule of thumb here. The majority of fruits and vegetables should be firm to the touch, not soft or mushy. Look for fruits and vegetables that have nice bright colors. Good fruits and vegetables should have either a sweet, fresh smell or no smell at all. If the smell is off something is probably wrong. The good news here is that today most major supermarkets sale pretty high quality fruits and vegetables so following the rules above should get you in business.

Most people know the common suspects here but I would encourage you to try fruits and vegetables that you may not be so familiar with like celery root which is great when incorporated into mashed potatoes, fennel which has an almost apple-like aroma and taste and goes great with pork, or maybe Jicama (Hick-a-ma) which is an interesting addition to any kind of slaw you might make.

Seafood

Depending on where you live it may be tougher than other places to find good “fresh” seafood. But don’t give up because the rewards are too great. With all the different kinds of seafood out there, there are a world of possibilities here. In general, seafood should have a nice bright color, no film or mucus, look moist but not wet, be firm, and should have little to no odor. There is a misconception that seafood stinks, but truthfully really fresh seafood has almost no odor at all.

People always go to salmon here because of its versatility and great flavor. You can do a million things with shrimp, um. Cajun shrimp, bbq shrimp, pineapple shrimp, shrimp shishkabobs, um hold on I sound like that movie lol. Anyway they are really easy and versatile too just remember to either buy them deveined or devein them yourself. Depending on the type of cooking you want to do usually will determine what fish you buy, if you want to fry you want to use something that is pretty muscular and will hold up like cod, grouper, or a personal favorite catfish. For an interesting twist, if you ever see it in the store try monkfish it is one heck of any ugly fish and you can only eat the tail because most of the body is its head but its delicious, great in a pasta. (Note: Do NOT overcook seafood, it will be dry and not taste good)

Seafood

Fear not I have not forgotten about our hard shelled friends the crabs, lobsters, and crayfish just to name a few. Most people hear crab and think crab cakes. If you are going to make crab cakes buy the lump it’s the best, but a little on the expensive side. If you ever decided to cook a whole crab which may be as simple as seasoning them and dropping them in boiling water, getting into them is a skill at best.

Lobster is either sold live or just buy the tail. Buying the live can be interesting with several places on the internet explaining the proper way to prepare for cooking. If you want to save the time then buy the tails. The lobster meat is delicate but not the most flavorful. You usually see it in something like a bisque where there are a myriad of flavors that it can just absorb or in something light like a simple butter sauce. Finally, unless you are from the south you may not know a lot about crayfish but these little babies pack huge amounts of flavor. They can either be cooked whole and the cracked and eaten like a crab or the meat can be taken and put into something delicious like a gumbo. There is tons of other seafood out there like scallops, clams, and mussels just to name a few.

Poultry

For years chicken has been a huge part of every great cooks’ culinary repertoire. Chickens’ only downfall may be that it is to versatile. Most people think chicken is boring. The truth is that chicken can be cooked and prepared just about any way that you can think off. It absorbs flavors like nobody’s business. Chicken is great because when you’re in a bind you can always pull off a great chicken dish. Whether its some succulent fried chicken, a nice spicy chicken pasta, or oven-roasted herb crusted chicken the possibilities are endless. The main things to remember here is that when roasting chicken in the oven, if you cook it too long it will be dry and stringy.

poultry

Now not to be outdone hear is the turkey, yes the turkey. Most people hear turkey and think thanksgiving but not anymore. Whether used in a great meatloaf or fried to golden perfect turkey is here to stay. When cooked properly turkey meat is actually quite flavorful and moist. Also falling into this category are things like Cornish game hens which are nice for romantic two person dinners as well as quail and pheasant which when used in the right manner can all be truly delicious food.

Another good thing to remember when dealing with poultry if you have the time is remember to brine it. Brining is simply the act of submerging the poultry in a mix of water, salt, and I like to use brown sugar. So I know what you are saying, but won’t salt dry out my chicken even more? The answer is No. The salt in the brines does act to pull the moisture that is in the meat out which in general is bad, but buy the meat being submerged in water at the point where the ratio of water on the inside of the chicken is equal to the ratio of water on the outside of the chicken we achieve a state of osmosis, good. At this point there begins a continuous flow of moisture throughout not just the top layers of our poultry but threw the muscle as well making our poultry very flavorful and moist.

(Health Note: When working with any kind of poultry make sure to thoroughly sanitize the area where you are working with the all poultry not just chicken and keep it separate from all other food you are working with to prevent cross contamination.)

Well guys this one is getting longer than I thought so I guess I will just have to finish this post up tomorrow with beef, pork, and lamb. Till then remember “Zo says that anybody can cook like a pro”.

5 Comments

  1. mywoodenrobot says:

    Wow this site is cool! I’m gonna add you to my blogroll.

  2. Sportsattitude says:

    Thanks for visiting my site, Zo. I was very interested in the comments on brine. Have been toying with the idea of trying it out. We have a Wegman’s nearby that actually sells poultry already packaged in brine. Love turkey year-round as well!

  3. Mel says:

    I love your blog. Brines really help to make poultry moist. We used one for our rather large Thanksgiving bird and the flavor was wonderful. I would suggest that anyone attempting to brine a large item such as a turkey or a large chicken or hen invest in a bucket specifically for brining. It really helps to keep things neat, clean and sanitary which is very important when working with poultry.

  4. swedishfish says:

    Thanks for the comment! I will certainly be keeping track of your blog. Take care!

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