Secrets of chefs and restaurants
The instant expert: in the kitchen
Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week the self-styled gourmand and frequent restaurant diner and party host Rick Arthur shares some canny cooking secrets.
THE BASICS Any chef worth his, well, salt, knows how to improvise, how to stretch supplies, how to cope in an emergency, what ingredient can substitute for another - how to keep on cooking, no matter what. The Instant Expert has gleaned the following tips from a variety of sources, including one high in the global empire of a New York-based, three-starred Michelin chef. Some of the short cuts, of course, occur only in restaurants farther down in the culinary ratings.
MONDAY SPECIAL Cream of vegetable soup, naturally. Why let weekend leftovers go to waste?
SIMILARLY Uneaten rolls and bread from table service sometimes get used in desserts such as bread pudding. And seafood salads, fish stews, crab cakes and chowders are sometimes made from left-over, dubiously fresh trimmings.
BAIT AND SWITCH That "swordfish" may be shark. "Grouper" may be tilefish. "Red snapper" may be tilapia. Fish fraud in restaurants and markets has been documented around the world.
UNHYGIENIC Never eat anything out of the bartender's tray of garnishes (which, by the way, he calls his "garbage"). Ditto for communal bowls of nuts, crisps, pretzels and such.
UGH Sliced lemons go rancid fast. Don't ask for them in your beverage. Get them on the side and see if they feel slippery, a sure sign of decay.
THE HORROR Uh-oh. Out of breadcrumbs? Instant mashed potatoes (!) can substitute for them as a coating for fish and poultry.
BUYER BEWARE Tasting menus are rightly disparaged as "fleecing" menus. Many chefs told the M magazine contributor Shoba Narayan (see My Life, opposite page) for an article in the late, lamented Gourmet magazine that they never order them.
LOCAL? MAYBE While it's oh-so-vogue on menus to cite farms and farmers, many deliver only once or twice a week, so "locally sourced" produce may be from halfway around the globe.
CAN DO, PART ONE Canned beans are a staple in many a chef's pantry. Amanda Hesser of The New York Times Magazine told Jill Pellettieri of Slate that she uses canned chickpeas "for spreads and soups and salads - and anyone who says they don't is lying!"
CAN DO, PART TWO Among those who admit they use canned plum tomatoes is the exalted chef Thomas Keller of the famed restaurants The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, and Bouchon in New York City.
THE BIG CHILL, PART ONE The inestimable James Beard, as far back as in his Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapés (1940), sang the praises of frozen green peas. Chefs use them for pea soup far more often than you would suspect.
THE BIG CHILL, PART TWO In the East, frozen corn is better than fresh. Fresh corn on the cob in, for example, India is too chewy.
HOW THRIFTY, PART ONE When you see a mixed berry sorbet or sauce, it's probably because the pastry chef has been saving up bruised and old-ish berries in the freezer for just such use. Berries are too expensive to throw away.
HOW THRIFTY, PART TWO Those twice-baked almond croissants may seem like an original offering, but they're a crafty French way of utilising the day-old pastry by splitting them, spreading with almond paste and lightly soaking in almond syrup to make sure they're not dry.
REQUIRED READING Yes, he's insufferably vain and over-exposed, but Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (2000) is a can't-put-it-down odyssey through the drama and intrigues of restaurants fine and not so fine. Bile and vindictiveness garnish many a dish.
Four tools every cook must have
Do you really need an apple corer? An egg separator? And while a food processor is nice, do you need one? Presuming you have a cutting board, a plastic spatula, a wooden spoon, a good knife or two and some decent pots, pans and mixing bowls, here are four affordable tools that all serious cooks cannot do without:
MICROPLANE Once used exclusively by woodworkers, this nifty and versatile gadget grates hard cheeses, chocolate, coconut, garlic, spices, citrus zest and more.
TONGS Like an extension of your arm (and with insulated grips, a heat-resistant one), tongs can pick up and flip delicate asparagus or a heavy roast. They're also essential for sausages, chicken and steaks on the grill.
VEGETABLE PEELER You can peel fruits and vegetable with a knife, but this classic is made for the task. It also can shave chocolate, zest citrus and create butter curls.
WIRE WHIP This basic utensil beats eggs and cream; stirs sauces, gravies and puddings; blends marinades and dressings - and can even be used on dry ingredients.