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If not for our vocational Culinary Arts program I would have failed out of high school and got a GED at best. Who knows the trajectory of my life at that point.
I literally went from a high school failure to graduating top of my class at my Votech. Culinary Arts and Mr. Maier saved my life! That school sent me on a 10-year journey through some of the best restaurants in my area and even pushed me to go eat and meet one my greatest idols, Thomas Keller at his world-class Per Se Restaurant in NYC.
“How did you know the answer to that?” Mr. Milnes cried out after I answered a particularly hard question in 11th grade social studies class. I was usually quiet or starting trouble with friends but I was rarely a good student back at my high school.
“Because he’s smart!” a girl a few rows back cried out in my defense. Still not sure why she did that?
“No he’s not!” Mr. Milnes replied to her.
I wasn’t mad at him for saying that. I was at a point in my life where I was hardly showing the world my best. I was content with showing the world my worst.
Though I was so far away from the survival and prepping world I was honing one of the most important skills in all of preparedness. The ability to take raw ingredients and turn them into food is the most essential and underrated life skill of them all.
I am consistently amazed at how many people have no ability to cook themselves a simple meal, let alone a weeks’ worth of meals. With restaurants being closed because of the pandemic the reality of not being able to cook is hitting home for many.
The Basic Cooking Methods
What are the very basics of cooking? Do you know? You don’t learn them on cooking shows or Binging with Babish. The basics are all about knife skills and safety and the basic cooking methods.
How to cut something into similar sized pieces and how to cook those things are the basis of most recipes.
We are going to talk about the basic cooking methods in this article. When you understand and practice all of these cooking methods you can look at a world of ingredients and know just how to handle each food item you see.
EX: When I see a ribeye steak I think, grill. When I see a lamb shank I think braise. What I flavor it with always comes second but the method I use to make that food delicious is always first.
Understanding the cooking methods will allow you to turn almost anything edible into a delicious meal. There is a serious level of uncertainty in the food system, right now.
The time to learn how to cook and how to cook foods from scratch is upon us. Supermarkets are struggling to keep meat on the shelves and some staples are even coming up short in most locations.
It all starts with the basic cooking methods. They are broken down into two categories
Dry Cooking Methods: Cooking methods that employ dry heat to cook foods
Moist Cooking Methods: Cooking methods that employ moist heat to cook foods.
Dry Cooking Methods
- Pan Fry
- Deep Fat Fry
Moist Cooking Methods
Utilizing Dry Cooking Methods
Using dry heat to cook foods is the most common because we have cooked over fire for so long. We also have ovens, grills and frying pans at our disposal.
Many of the foods we purchase also lend themselves to these dry cooking methods. You don’t take a perfectly good piece of halibut and stew it!
Let’s take a look at how these methods work and what they are best used for.
In most cases grilling is a high heat and fast paced cooking method that works well for things like steak, thick fish, chicken and pork. Vegetables can be grilled if you cut them long and thick enough to keep them from falling between the grates.
Some modern grills like the Traeger grill can be set to a certain temperature and require much less hands-on attention. These meats are often grilled at a slow and low temperature.
In most cases grilling is done at high temperatures using meats that are tender and cook quickly.
To grill effectively you need to understand where your grill is hottest and where it is coolest. Searing meat will required the hottest points and finishing them might require that you move the meat from the hot spot to a cooler area to finish cooking.
This dry heat cooking method is done in the oven and is tied to the baking of breads, pastries, and quick breads. Baking is not attributed to meat as although you can come across recipes like “baked chicken” but really that is just roasting.
Baking and roasting are pretty similar but you will find out the difference when you understand roasting a little better.
Very similar to baking, roasting is a dry heat cooking method that is defined by two important factors. Uncovered high heat in an oven and an emphasis on caramelization.
Baked foods, like muffins and breads can be baked without much caramelization but roasted meats or vegetables are supposed to be caramelized and share that richness in flavor.
Pan frying is similar to deep frying but you only cover the food halfway with oil. In a pan you put enough oil to cover your food item halfway with hot oil and then you fry on each side in the hot oil.
You have to manage heat when pan frying so your food will cook thoroughly and not burn on both sides.
This is a great cooking method for stove top fried chicken, chicken fried steak or frying fish. You can also make some killer pan fried potatoes.
At first glance you might think that submerging food in hot oil would be more of a moist cooking method. However, cooking in oil is the opposite of cooking in a moist environment.
Deep frying, though not the healthiest cooking method, is a great way to fry up foods like fish, chicken and anything batter dipped.
This cooking method has some pretty distinct instructions. You need a hot pan with oil that is about a dime’s thickness. If you use too much oil you are not sauteing you are pan frying. So understand that distinction.
Saute means to jump and that is what you want your food to do in the pan. It should be a quick process where the food is heated high temperature, quickly and then out of the pan.
This is great for meat that is cut into small pieces and vegetables that cook down quick or are also cut into smaller pieces.
Utilizing the Moist Cooking Methods
Moist cooking methods are great because it is much harder to overcook foods this way. Even if you do overcook foods using moist cooking methods they are usually still salvageable.
Whereas, leaving a steak on the grill for too long will get you something charred and too tough to chew.
Sadly, we hardly use moist cooking methods outside of steaming our vegetables. Maybe after getting to know them you will take more time to use them.
Nowadays, you can even steam food directly in the bag. I have never done it.
Growing up steaming was about crabs and shrimp. Models steamed their chicken with their rice and vegetables. The former is a great way to use steaming the latter is awful.
If you really wanna take advantage of steaming you need some kind of rack that food can be sat on under which water is boiled. My favorite use for steaming is to take ground beef, chicken or pork, mix in ginger, garlic and chilis then wrap them in dumpling skins to steam. Steamed dumplings can be a bunch of junk thrown into a skin and steamed to your hearts desire!
Boiling is a cooking method that can only happen at 212 degrees. While it’s rare, something like the New England boiled beef dinner can be quite delicious.
Boiling is a great way to blanch or quickly cook vegetables and crucial for making hard boiled eggs. Boiling is usually one part of a cooking process but rarely the entire process.
When you think poach, think delicate. This the most delicate cooking method and can be used to make some very delicious recipes. Poaching chicken is about the best way to get nice chunks of chicken into soups without any caramelization. You can even poach the chicken in the same broth you intent to use as the soups base.
Poaching is just a matter of cooking an ingredient in a simmering liquid.
For me red wine poached pairs with autumn spices is about the best way to enjoy this cooking method. Yes, it’s basically a desert but it’s such a delicious way to cook fruit and because it is so gentle the fruit holds up nicely.
You can poach other meats, too and they often wind up a very tender and delicious. Don’t forget about those poached eggs!
This cooking method is great for creating one pot meals. To stew is most often to take less desirable cuts of meat and simmer them on the stove top over long periods of time. To this pot vegetables are often added.
The cooking method itself is a matter of slow simmer on a stove top, over long periods of time. This can turn something like tough stew beef or oxtails into a wonderfully, tender meal.
Braising is my favorite cooking method of them all. It’s magic. Its also a method that all preppers and survivalists should get to know. This is due to it’s ability to make two great foods from one terrible and often undesirable one.
Braising is a multi process cooking method that can be used to turn the toughest cuts of meat into delicacies. Foods like shanks, short ribs, tongues, and briskets can all be braised with great success.
The first step in braising happens on the stovetop. You begin by heating a large braising pot with oil in it. If you can braise in the same pot, i.e. it’s oven safe, that is ideal.
Sear the meat on all sides and get a nice brown color. Deglaze the pan or add broth or wine while the pan is hot. Then cover the meat 3/4 of the way with some kind of liquid. Could be more wine or broth. If you’ve got nothing else you can just use water.
Bring everything to a simmer, cover and place in a 300 degree, or so, oven. Most big cuts of meat will braise for 3-4 hours.
You get a great braised meat that will fall off the bone and you also get this tremendous braising liquid that can be reduced into a sauce or used to make a soup or stew.
Of course, you can add garlic, onions and whatever herbs and spices you’d like to a braise. I was just giving you the basic idea. Rosemary is my favorite herb for braising…maybe thyme.
Cooking is the most neglected survival skill of them all. Forget about things like land navigation! You have to eat a few time everyday or else you will die or become weak and ineffective.
There is also the power of nearly perpetual employment. People are always eating, in some way or another. Even with a nation that is shutdown there are many restaurants and institutions still producing food, you can teach people to cook, cater events and even become an in home chef for people with big money.
The cooking methods are the basics of all cooking and the perfect place to start a series on cooking here at Backdoor Survival. There are many ways that we can go from here and I would like to cover things like food storage recipes, knife skills and how to use wild foods in recipes, among other things.
If you are isolated, there is no better way to pass the time than baking something or taking on a nice big cooking project. I hope you enjoyed this diversion from the pandemic and focus on the art of cookery.