Choosing the Best Method to Cook Vegetables

Choosing the Best Method to Cook Vegetables

This lesson focuses on some basic topics that will be useful for the rest of the course. In particular, the lesson discusses cooking tools as well as best practices for cooking vegetables. It also discusses two ways to cook asparagus and three ways of cooking cabbage. The different cooking methods show how desirable (or undesirable) certain approaches can be.

This course will involve the use of many cooking tools. The most important are the knives that you use. For example, if you have large hands, a smaller knife might not work as well for you. There are many types of knives used for different purposes. For instance, a petty knife is a classic tool for fine-cutting techniques, while a nikiri is a knife for slicing vegetables. The modern home version is called a santoku knife, which is an interesting hybrid of the other two. It is a little less intimidating for a lot of people because it is missing the tip part of the knife, making it smaller and more manageable. The classic chef knife is a general workhorse in the kitchen. As far as the blades are concerned, most commercial blades work well.

Salt and Pepper
Salt is an amazing ingredient, which enhances taste in food. While salt enhances other flavors, pepper actually adds a distinct flavor to the food. Generally speaking, it is wise to add pepper first and salt second. There are many kinds of salt, but generally, kosher salt can be used for nearly everything.

Vegetable Cooking Basics
In general, there are two cooking techniques for vegetables: wet and dry. Wet cooking techniques include boiling (or blanching) and steaming. Dry techniques include roasting and sautéing. High-moisture vegetables like zucchini are more well suited to dry cooking techniques that do not introduce additional moisture.

Asparagus Preparation
This lesson now turns to provide some tips on cooking asparagus. To prepare, place a small mat under your cutting board. This will provide a stable place to work.

Examine the asparagus. The head should be closed and tight, and the asparagus should have a blue tinge. Avoid asparagus that is overly thick or thin. Flex a piece of asparagus to find out where it naturally breaks. It is likely that your asparagus came from the same field or plant, so the other spears will have a similar breaking point. Do not use the bottom part of the stem. Use a petty knife to cut the remaining stems at the same point on a bias. The first piece of asparagus you broke can serve as a measuring tool.

Asparagus has chlorophyll, and the maximum cooking time for vegetables with chlorophyll is roughly seven minutes. After that time, the structure of the vegetable will deteriorate. Therefore, you should break the asparagus down into pieces that are small enough to cook in seven minutes.

Next, peel the asparagus. Keep some of the green on the asparagus, but take the fibrous outer layer off. Break it down into manageable sizes by cutting the larger pieces in half lengthwise and the smaller pieces in half the other way.

Cooking Asparagus

This lesson involves cooking asparagus in two different ways: in boiling salted water and in oil. First up is the boiling salted water method. In terms of weight, the water should weigh four to six times as much as the asparagus. This limits the amount of time inserting the asparagus will interrupt the boiling. Add salt to the water at a ratio of one ounce per two quarts of water. Add the asparagus to cook while you begin preparing the sautéed asparagus.

To begin the sautéing method, heat a small amount of grapeseed oil in a pan. Look for a shimmer in the pan. Once that comes, add the asparagus. Shake the pan to coat the asparagus in the oil. Line the asparagus up and season it with a small amount of salt. Turn the heat down. Check on the boiled asparagus. It should have a bright green color. At this stage, you will probably have cooked it for two or three of the seven maximum minutes.

Use tweezer tongs to flip the asparagus in the sauté pan, facing them in the same direction. These, too, will need roughly seven minutes of cooking time. Each batch of asparagus will be ready once it is fork-tender.

To see the difference between the cooking methods, perform a taste test on each batch.

Cooking Cabbage

This lesson now turns to information on cooking a red cabbage. You will see the effects of cooking it with three different methods, using salted water, water with red wine vinegar, and water with baking soda.

Breaking a cabbage down can be awkward because they are round and unstable, but to increase stability, you can remove the stem scar and stand the cabbage upright. Next, cut the cabbage in half from the top down. Cut each of these into fourths and then into smaller pieces to cook. A chef's knife will be your best tool.

Cabbages contain the opposite enzyme of chlorophyll: anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is completely water and oil soluble. It is closely related to anthoxanthin and betaxanthin, which are in beets.

To see this lesson’s cabbage cooking methods in action, prepare three different pots with a quart of water in each. Add salt to one, red wine vinegar to the second, and baking soda to the third. The salted water will have a pH of 7.2. The water with the red wine vinegar will have a lower pH of 5.4 to 5.5. The water with the baking soda’s pH will range between 8.0 and 8.2.

Bring the water up to a boil. Place cabbage inside each pot. Let them cook for three to four minutes.

Take the cabbage out of the water. Note the differences between the cabbage produced by each pot: The cabbage cooked in the vinegar solution will have an intact structure and should taste good. The salted water–cooked cabbage will start to fall apart in your hands. The baking soda–cooked cabbage will likely be slimy, mealy, and unappealing.

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