Parcooking: The Chef’s Professional Edge!
No one’s born knowing how to sauté chicken, blanch vegetables, or make a smooth gravy. Most of us learn to cook through trial and error, the Food Network, or being forced to feed ourselves when no one else will do it. Thank goodness for the many great cooking sites we can turn to for timely advice, right?
For instance, on www.lifehacker.com, I learned about a really useful cooking technique—one chefs use every day, but the rest of us rarely pick up. It’s called PARCOOKING, and it is the chef’s professional edge!
Short for “partial cooking,” parcooking involves partially cooking a dish now and finishing it later, presumably when you want to serve it. It’s a time-honored technique to keep dishes that normally dry out easily moist and flavorful, and avoid needing to reheat them when it’s time to serve (which makes food taste like leftovers).
It’s also a great when you need to start cooking a dish one way (baking chops to keep them juicy, for example) and finish it another way (on the grill for that delicious char, for example) or you have a lot going on at once but everything needs to be ready at the same time (like Thanksgiving dinner.)
Parcooking is a pretty general cooking method that’s really about timing and the recipe you’re making. That means the “how” depends heavily on the food you’re cooking, and how or when you plan to finish it.
For instance, parcooking a casserole may involve baking it through but stopping shy of a crispy crust or firm, solid body that won’t fall apart when you dish it out. Parcooking rice or pasta on the other hand may involve boiling in water until it’s just shy of al dente, and finishing it later in a pan full of homemade sauce.
Because it’s so widely applicable, it’s useful for almost anything. Here are some popular examples:
The afore-mentioned casseroles and bakes: Any baked dish that needs to retain moisture but should still be warm all the way through when served. It’s also a great way to make casseroles ahead and then freeze them for later.
Pork and chicken: Specifically chops, ribs, chicken breasts, thighs, and anything else that cooks faster outside than inside. As an example, parcooking ribs in the oven and finishing them on the grill yields perfectly cooked meat without sacrificing the delicious grilled flavor that comes from a few minutes over the coals. In any fried chicken recipe, parcooking in the oven first makes sure the chicken stays moist and juicy even after it’s breaded and fried again in hot oil.
Potatoes, rice, and other water-absorbing starches: The longer you cook most starches, the looser and softer they get. By parcooking them first, you avoid overcooking and you can add them to other dishes without losing their texture. This is especially useful when grilling potatoes (so they don’t fall apart on the grill or burn outside before they’re soft inside), or prepping potatoes for other dishes such as hash browns, home fries, or French fries.
You can see the theme here. Virtually any situation where you can make something ahead of time, or where you can start with low, controlled heat (to develop lots of flavor) but want to finish with high heat (for searing or caramelization), is perfect for parcooking. You can even parcook veggies before grilling or sauteeing them to keep their texture and flavor without cooking them to death.
So if you’re not already parcooking, it’s time to start. It truly is the chef’s professional edge!
Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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