In this post I will be discussing the various methods of applying heat to food. Before that it is important to understand how different substances react to heat. Some of this might seem obvious, but it can be very helpful to break down whatever it is you are cooking and consider how each part will respond to the cooking method you have chosen.
Effects of Heat
Fats: Melt (just like butter in the pan and the extra bits of fat in meat) -- also if the fat is allowed to get very hot it will speed up the cooking of the sugars in the foods and make them crispy (like when you deep-fry something.)
Protein: "coagulates" meaning it get firmer. Also it is important to remember that proteins also lose moisture and get smaller.
Sugar: Caramelizes, get brown and a rich dark flavor. This is one the best flavors in cooking. Realize that sugar is present in almost all foods (this is why your chicken or rolls will get that nice golden color when cooked.)
Water: Evaporates. Most foods are primarily made of water and no one likes to eat food that is over-cooked and dry.
Cooking methods -can be broken down into two groups: dry-heat methods and moist heat methods.
Dry Heat Methods include- Broiling, Grilling, Baking, Sautéing, Pan-frying and Deep-Frying. These are great because they get the caramelization going, which adds that great flavor.
Moist Heat Methods include- poaching, simmering, boiling, steaming. The real advantage here is that they add moisture as cook, so you don't end up with a dry finished product.
Braising is one way to get the best of both methods.
Braising is a great way to cook larger, tough cuts of meat, like Roasts and Ribs. Lately, I have been discovering how great braising is for chicken, which is what inspired this post Braising is very similar to what you are already doing in your crock pot; however, most of us are skipping the first and maybe most important step.
Here are the basic steps:
1. Season the meat and brown in a sauté pan with a little fat. (Dry seasons like salt, pepper, garlic salt, and rosemary work well because when you coat the meat and then when you brown the outside the sugars in the meat, the fat and the seasons create a delicious hard shell around the meat that keeps all the juice inside. Also dredging smaller cuts of meat in flour with seasonings can create the same effect.)
2. Finish the meat by simmering it in a liquid or sauce. You do this by transferring the meat to a crock pot or deep baking dish or pan. You can simmer on the stove top or in the oven. Braised meats should be tender. For large, tough cuts of meat the simmering stage could take 3-4 hours, but for smaller and tenderer cuts, like chicken, 30 minutes may be all you need.
Simple, right? Here are some ways you can try it out.
Here is a recipe for Cafe Rio's Pork Barbacoa
This is a great recipe, but before you put it all in the crock pot, rub the dry oregano, ginger, chili powder, garlic powder and dried onions all over the raw pork and brown it in a sauté pan on medium high with a little bit of oil. Transfer the meat to the crock pot, then "deglaze" the pan (fancy cooking word for using a liquid; classically wine, but you can use water, stock, vinegar, juice; to get all the delicious browned bits and flavors left in the pan after you brown something.) Pour what you have in the pan over the meat in the crock pot and follow the rest of the recipe.
One more recipe:
This is a very yummy Cranberry Chicken I made on Wenesday.
Do everything this recipe says, but before topping the chicken with the cranberry/Catalina dressing sauce. Shake salt, pepper, garlic salt and dry rosemary (not too much) on the chicken and brown (the chicken should not be cooked through because you will finish that up in the oven) in a sauté pan (deglazing is less important in this case because the recipe calls for onion soup mix, which has about the same flavor. If you don't have the soup mix you can sauté some onions with chicken and then deglaze with stock. Also, I added a bit of Dijon mustard to the cranberry-catalina sauce, which added a nice little punch.