Pro Series Class 6: Dry Heat Cooking

This post is part of a 9-part series related to my completion of the Pro Series 1 professional culinary arts course at The Culinary Center of Kansas City with Chef Richard McPeake. This course changed my cooking world! An introductory post can be found here.

Searing, roasting, broiling, grilling! This was a very busy class with some spectacular recipes. We learned to sear meat properly (more on that below), the different methods of roasting and their benefits and drawbacks, the importance of resting foods after cooking, and many other things. Honestly, we’re beginning to cover so much ground in class that it is hard to recap it here. So I’ll limit this to the tips you can apply now, and of course, the recipes and food!

Do This Now:
*Don’t Boil Your Beef! If you crowd food into your pan to “sear”, the surface of your meat doesn’t heat fast enough, thus drawing the moisture out and simply “boiling” your meat. Tasty, huh? The fix — let your pan get very hot (you can always turn the heat down or pull the pan off the heat) and then give your food some space. You’ll get a lovely sear that will seal your flavor and juices in, and look just plain pretty. You may need to sear food in batches, depending on the size of your pan. A good set of tongs comes in handy here.

*Sear the pretty side of your meat first, then serve that side face-up. The second side will never sear as nicely.

*Roast your entire dish. When roasting, always elevate your food with a rack so the bottom of your meat roasts as well, and doesn’t just boil or steam.

*Try vertical roasting. This is the most effective method for roasting any kind of poultry. In conventional roasting, the breast meat tends to overcook, while the thigh and leg meat are still cooking. But purchasing an inexpensive vertical riser (or even a beer can chicken roaster), you can help even out the cooking process for all parts of the dear birdie. Speaking of beer can chicken — if you don’t like beer, try sodas or any kind of juice. A fun suggestion was cola for a bird that has been rubbed in jerk seasoning.

*Dry out your duck. In order for duck to roast properly and not to have a “fatty” taste, the fat needs to render out while roasting. This can be helped out significantly by drying your duck prior to roasting. Simply place the little guy on a rack inside a sheetpan or on a vertical riser on a plate, UNDER REFRIGERATION and dry uncovered for 24-48 hours. The air drying opens the pores, which will help the fat render. Here’s another neat idea — instead of tying up the legs, cut a small slit in one leg between the tendon and the bone, and slip the other leg through.

*Create chicken (or pork or turkey) paillards in advance for easy weeknight meals. Simply wrap a chicken breast in plastic wrap and use the flat side of a mallet to flatten them in a brisk, outward motion. You may find it useful to butterfly the head of the chicken breast half (the really thick part) first. Do a bunch some evening when you’re feeling a tad cranky, and kill two birds with one stone. Freeze them in packets of 2 or so, separated by wax paper, and you’ll be able to break them out for dinner in a hurry. Once thawed, these thin cutlets cook very quickly (2-3 minutes or less per side) and look elegant.

*Stop overcooking your meat! No one wants food poisoning, but the USDA recently revised their guidelines for safe temperatures for different types of meat. Chances are, your meat thermometer may be old and wrong. For example, pork is now listed as safe at 160 degrees. The trick is to stop cooking just before the meat reaches that internal temperature, tent it and let it rest (see next comment), and the temperature will continue to rise while it rests (carry-over cooking).

*Let your meat rest, or you’re wasting your time. Resting your food after any style of cooking will redistribute the juices in the meat and relax the meat fibers, meaning a juicier and more tender product. When meat is cooked over high heat, the meat fibers tighten and force the juices into the center, so you need to allow time for this process to reverse. Be sure to tent your food loosely with tin foil to keep in some heat. Small foods only need rest about 5 minutes. Larger cuts should rest 10 to 15 minutes.
The Dishes:

Pan-Grilled Chicken Paillard with Tarragon Butter – This was absolutely amazing, due in large part to the tarragon butter, flavored with shallots, mustard, and Ancho chili powder.

Seared and Roasted Lamb Racks – seasoned simply with Dijon and breadcrumbs.

The lamb picture above is a great example of why meat needs to rest. In the interests of time, Chef used our team’s lamb rack to slice and plate for presentation, before the meat had rested. You can see that it appears to be cooked unevenly, and could have used a little time taking a wee nap on our table.

Grilled Garlic & Chili Rubbed Rib-Eye with Béarnaise Butter – Oh. My. Stars. this was amazing. We used a heavy hand with the rub and thought it was perfect. And the compound butter added another perfect layer of flavor.

Dry-Roasted Whole Duck – I didn’t get a picture of this but it came out really crispy and lovely. This was my first taste of duck and it was good, but I’ve got to say it seemed like alot of work for a very small amount of meat.

After enjoying the night’s dishes, I vowed never to eat another dish if it didn’t have both a rub/marinade AND a compound butter. Dairy is essential to strong bones, you know.