Fond of food
March 31, 2011By Kim Dannies
“Wow, that was good!” is music to every cook’s ears. So, what’s the secret to making everyday edibles simply incredible? I recently asked myself this question as I watched my buddy, Kiwi Dick, an excellent omelet maker, maneuver in the kitchen. He produced seven perfect omelets with finesse, yet he wasn’t confident that he was coaxing the maximum flavor out of his ingredients.
“Color equals flavor” is a mantra worth remembering. For sauté, heating the pan until really hot, and then adding the oil is an essential step. When the oil is hot, then it’s OK for the ingredients to hit the pan. In the case of onions, the base for almost every savory dish, most cooks need to sauté them quite a bit longer. To achieve maximum intensity of flavor, the onions must release their natural sugars so they can caramelize into gems of glossy brown-black. The same also goes for mushrooms. Incremental pinches of kosher salt throughout the sauté will draw out the water and build seductive layers of flavor.
The hot pan must be scraped continuously. Deglazing the onions with a slug of sherry, beer, or stock after 12 to 15 minutes is where the magic happens.
When onions are allowed to fully caramelize – at around 20 minutes of cooking time– nirvana is within reach (if you are using garlic, don’t add it until the final minute of cooking or it will burn and become bitter). Scraping of the pan throughout is essential: those shiny, fat-soaked, carbonized treats at the bottom are the “fond.” These are the rock stars of flavor that morph a dish from average to amazing.
The culinary cognoscenti agree that the most flavorful cuts of meat are the cheapest: brisket, pork shoulder, and chuck. Slow, low-heat braising with a bit of decent wine and some root vegetable will yield gravy and a treasure trove of fried black bits tasty enough to start a family fight. So, if it’s charred, crunchy, fried, congealed, flecked or globbed, eat it! There’s a whole lot of love going on in the fond.
Kim Dannies is a graduate of La Varenne Cooking School in France. She lives in Williston with her husband, Jeff; they have three college-aged daughters who come and go. For archived Everyday Gourmet columns go to kimdannies.com.