The Flat Possum Gazette

Test Kitchen

Courtesy of the Road-Kill Press

= Tips From the Test Kitchen =

Cooking Oils:

To: All You Connoisseurs of Good Grub

I know most of you deep fry your favorite potato, fish or whatever turns you on. You may have wondered which oil is best, depending upon it's smoke point, or maybe it's flash point. So, listen up. The smoke point is the temperature at which it begins to smoke and give off acrid smells.  The flash point is higher and is the temperature when wisps of oil vapor will spontaneously ignite. Obviously, if you want to continue cooking in good health, you must choose an oil whose smoke point is well above your chosen frying temperature.

Approximate Smoke Points for fresh (unused) oils:

Type of Oil Smoke Point in Fahrenheight
Avocado 500 deg.
Almond 500 deg.
Safflower 450 deg.
Cottonseed 450 deg.
Grapeseed 450 deg.
Canola 450 deg.
Soybean 450 deg.
Corn 440 deg.
Olive (pure) 410 deg.
Peanut 410 deg.
Sesame 410 deg.
Sunflower 390 deg.
Vegetable Shortening 375-425 deg.
Lard 360-400 deg.
Clarified Butter 325-375 deg.

It is important to remember that the smoke point of an oil can drop 100 deg. after just one use. So store your oils in a cool, dark place and keep the container full so there is less oxidation and therefore less deterioration of your oils. Also, please note that Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a lower smoke point than the more refined (and purer) olive oils and should not be used for high-temperature frying.

This information ties in with the words from Austin's Threadgill's Cookbook, where they recommend Canola Oil for frying. They fry a lot of stuff there, and I would have thought they would use Peanut Oil. But Canola has a 40 deg. higher smoke point.  If you can find it, cottonseed oil is good to fry in. I have seen it sold under the label "Wok Oil", but it is in small bottles and is somewhat pricey.

By the way, Canola is produced from rape seed, mostly grown in Canada. And Canola is an acronym for Canadian Oil. You can see why they changed it from rape seed oil to something else.

Clarified Butter:

Sometimes you want to saute steaks and cook other goodies with butter instead of cooking oil, but you want to cook at a high temperature that would normally burn butter.  What to do? What to do? Clarify the butter, that's what.  The process removes the milk solids (white stuff) that burns at low temp and effectively allows the butter to be used at a much higher temp without burning.  Neat, huh?

This is easy stuff, young and worthy son. Therefore you can do it, in your kitchen, without fear of lousing it up and creating uncontrolled animosity in your female roommate.

1.  For grins, do a pound of butter at a time. Use unsalted butter. Repeat, use unsalted butter.  Put it in a large pyrex measuring cup. (heatproof) Put it in the microwave and put on high for about 2 minutes until it melts. You can also do this on a stove in a saucepan, just make sure it does not burn.
2.  Pour the melted butter into a plastic storage container, and freeze until solid.
3.  With a sharp knife, cut around the outside of the butter to release it from the container.  Wash the chunk of butter under the faucet with cold water and remove the white milk solids that have risen to the top of the blob.  Dry the butter with paper towels and put it back in the storage container.  Or cut it into chunks, maybe the size of one tablespoon for ease of use.  Keep  in the freezer or the refrigerator until ready to use.
4. I think clarified butter tastes better, but see what you think.

Creme Fraiche:

While thinking of clarified butter, I was reminded of Creme Fraiche (pronounced "Cream Fresh").  This is a heavy cream in France, used in cooking, and has about 35% butterfat.  (Good Stuff, Maynard!) But now, young William, you can make your own, at home. You can be the first on your block to make Creme Fraiche! ( Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.)

You blend our American heavy cream with sour cream; let it sit out on the cabinet until it ferments and thickens; then you refrigerate it.  That's it.

Use 1/2 pint commercially soured cream and mix it with 1 pint heavy cream. That is the ratio.  Put the soured cream into a saucepan, blend in the heavy cream.  Heat it very gently to take off the ice box chill and to start up the fermentation action.  Don't let it heat over 85-90 degrees or you will kill off all the good bacteria. Put in a covered container and set it out at about 72-75 degrees overnight.  See, in the morning, if it has thickened.  If so, stir, cover and refrigerate. If not, allow a few more hours for it to do its thing. After you have used the majority of your supply, it acts as a "starter", so just add some more heavy cream and repeat the process.

You're probably wondering what's the point? Why go to all this trouble? Well, it is not a lot of trouble, and it preserves regular cream for 10 days or more, maybe two weeks.  You can dip out a dab to use in a spoon for cooking scrambled eggs, and whatever you want to use it to cook with. It boils without curdling, which I don't think you can do with sour cream.  It also tastes great on berries and pies, just add a sprinkle of sugar.

You can also do this with buttermilk, or yogurt, but sour cream produces a less aciditic Creme Fraiche.

Chicken Stock:

Here's a tip you may find useful: Sometimes The Flat Possum Test Kitchen finds itself out of chicken stock, homemade chicken stock, that is.  Like today for instance. So, I go to the shelf and pull out a container of "Glace de Poulet Gold".  This is a 1 1/2 oz. round foil container, shrink-wrapped in plastic of "A 20-time reduction of Classic French Chicken Stock".  It has the following ingredients: Chicken stock, Onions, Celery, Carrots, White Wine, Gelatin, flavoring and a little salt.

So, if you want to reconstitute a classic chicken stock, add twenty parts of water to the 1 part of Glace de Poulet Gold. This stuff keeps on the shelf for a long time, like canned goods, has a good flavor and very little salt. They also have these concentrated stocks for veal, beef and vegetables. It is made by a company called "More Than Gourmet", 115 W. Bartges St, Akron, OH 44311. Tel. (216)762-6652.

Brining Birds:

You ought to try this! To 1 gallon of water, add 1/4 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup molasses, plus whatever seasoning you want: powdered onion, garlic, cayenne, etc. Submerge (and refrigerate) the chicken in the solution for 12 to 16 hours. Rinse well and roast as desired. This works as well for boneless turkey breasts and other poultry parts. You cannot taste the salt, but your bird will be a lot jucier, especially the breast meat which has a tendency to be a tad dry.

Storing Stocks & Sauces:

An idea I tried recently:  If you are hard-up for freezer storage space, freeze your sauces or stocks in heavy duty freezer bags instead of bulky round or square containers. They will freeze flat, and you can stand them on end, conserving precious freezer space.  They will thaw much quicker than if stored in a round tub. I did this with a supply of Creole Sauce recently, filling each bag about 1/3 to 1/2 full, squeezing out the air, seal and wipe off moisture from the exterior of the bag. Stack them horizontally on waxed paper until they freeze solid, then store them on end, or poke them around in narrow places where you cannot fit a round/square container.

Black Peppercorns:

I have been reading up on Black Peppercorns, and it seems that the best are grown on the Malabar Coast of India.  That is on the southwest, just around the corner from Sri Lanka.  The pressure on those Indians to get their produce to market early is great because of high demand. On the other hand, the risk of allowing the peppercorns to remain and mature in clusters on
the plant, a climbing vine, is very great because the birds consider them an aphrodisiac and will promptly clean out the crop.  Whatever the birds don't get, the coastal storms do.

Never fear, kind souls, I have found a black peppercorn from the Malabar Coast that is protected from all those liabilities and is allowed to stay and mature on the vine until it has reached its full flavor and pungency. It is called Tellicherry Peppercorns.  Because they are not picked until maturity, the corns are larger than most, but they still have that shriveled, dried appearance. Put them into your grinder and try in a salad, or your favorite dressing. If your taste is sensitive to seasonings you may prefer them to the routine black pepper. Yeah, they cost a little more, but we are not discussing the El Cheapo Stuff here.

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