Today’s post is about something very near and dear to my heart: Fire. Fire is good, fire is your friend, fire can solve most of life’s problems, but above all fire is essential to good cooking. It may seem obvious, but it’s true. Food sticks less to hot pans, food cooks more evenly, it cooks faster, it tastes better, and most of all, flipping food around in a smoking hot pan with giant flames shooting out of it as you stand there nonplussed with a devil-may-care gleam in your eye is dead sexy. What use could you possibly have for arm hair, anyway?
In all seriousness, however, fire (or heat) is extremely important. It’s the most important tool you have to good cooking, second being sharp knives, but that’s another story. One of the most common questions I get asked/hear other people on TV and radio get asked is How Do I Keep My Food From Sticking? The answer, Fire. The hotter the pan is, the less food sticks to it, the less oil you need to keep the food from sticking and quicker you can get dinner on the table. In accordance to fire, there are a few other considerations.
Good cooking causes steam/smoke/good cooking smells to fill your house and coat anything immediately around your stove with a fine film of grease. A good vent fan over your range can help a lot. Also a window/ceiling fan. Always open them before you start cooking. It’s better to start off chilly then to interrupt your saute soiree by having to open windows and shut off smoke alarms.
If you are using aluminum non-stick pans please disregard this entire post. Those pans aren’t really designed to stand up to high flames and will cause that nice non-stick coating to flake off into your food. Use heavy duty aluminum, stainless steel or cast iron, they are better, last longer and, unlike teflon, have not been found to be carcinogenic.
Canola Oil is your best friend. Olive Oil is delicious and great for salads and dipping yummy bread in. Anyone who tells you to cook with Olive Oil is not your friend. There is a term used in conjunction with oil called Smoking Point. This means the temperature when the oil smokes. Olive Oil has a very low smoking point. If you try to sear or fry something with it, the oil will burn and your food will taste burnt regardless of what color it is. Canola Oil has the highest smoking point. It is also pretty cheap.
Take your pan, put it on a burner with the flame on All The Way. Leave it there. Do something else. Peel a carrot. Call your mom. Keep half an eye on it, but it’s fine where it is. Have everything you want to cook next to this pan, including the oil. Wait some more, start to get nervous, that’s OK. It’s perfectly normal to get jittery as you stand there and watch this empty pan sit on top of a flame and get hotter and hotter while you do nothing. Soon you’ll be able to feel the heat coming up from the pan. You’ll start to sweat. You’ll double check this blog post to make sure you red it correctly, you did. Wait a little longer. You’ll see a faint wisp of smoke come up from the pan, now it’s ready. As fast as you can, hit the pan with your oil, then your ingredients and stir like a Whirling Dervish. This is the proper way to stir fry–hot, hot, hot pan, veggies stir, stir, stir soy sauce, dump over rice. Very fast, very good. For searing things like meat or tofu or whatever, if you look at the side of the steak, you can see it browning, let it get dark golden brown. Then flip it and do the same on the other side. If it is a thicker cut piece of meat, throw it in your oven to finish. 350 works great. Don’t worry, the pan can take it.
The first couple of times you try this, you will either notice no difference or you will burn the shit out of whatever your cooking. This is normal. This takes finesse. Don’t let it get you down. You’ll get the hang of it in no time and soon you’ll be adding booze and being the best host on the block as you show off your mastery of flame for the enjoyment of people and palate alike.