Be a Home Superstar Chef (Part 5 – High Heat)

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roast_turkeyThis is part 5 of an open-ended and ongoing series of posts. In case you missed them, the previous posts were Part 1 – Good Pans, Part 2 – Shallots, Part 3 – Pine Nuts, and Part 4 – Knives.

One thing that a lot of home chefs are afraid of is very high heat. I would venture to guess that just about every person that has ever tried their hand at cooking has decided that they could get that burger or grilled cheese on the plate even faster by cranking the heat up. Universal, or not, the results of that brilliant idea tend to be rather educational to say the least.

While that lesson is an important one, it is not a hard and fast rule. Some of the most remarkable foods are the result of hig heat cooking. Grilling, deep frying and broiling are examples of high heat cooking that most of us are familiar with. A lot of Asian food is cooked over high temperatures in a wok, as well. Braising fans  are also familiar with searing the outside of large hunks of meat to get a nice caramelized crust.

We won’t be discussing any of those methods, this is about a lesser used technique that involves cranking the heat way up in the oven. High temperature, dry heat, roasting is what we are looking for here. When done properly this method can produce extremely delicious concentrated flavors.

The following techniques are different than regular roasting. While both involve placing uncovered food into an oven to be cooked by dry heat circulating around the surface. Usually low to medium heat is used to tenderize meats or to ensure that foods are cooked through all of the way without burning the outside. In fact, when in doubt about what temperature to roast or bake something, between 350° and 375° is usually a safe bet. But sometimes we need to take a walk on the wild side, like when driving a sports car on an empty expanse of road, and see what the top end really is.

Two good candidates for this type of intense cooking are turkey and root vegetables. Here is how to do both.

Roast Turkey:

First, brine it. Do not use this method without that step. Seriously.Then stuff the bird with your favorite aromatics and rub the skin with canola oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Place your bird into an oven that is preheated to 500° for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and cook until you get an internal temperature of 155°. Most turkeys can be cooked in about 2 to 3 hours using this method, and they taste fantastic. Remove from the oven and let rest, loosely covered, for 30 minutes or more.

Roast Vegetables:

There are so many variations on this that can be tried, but this is more about the technique than the actual ingredients. Good, solid root vegetables should make up the main portion of this dish, but feel free to add whatever you want and see what happens.

Wash and cut vegetables into approximately the same sized large chunks. A good combination to start with is potatoes (any kind will work, but varieties like Yukon Gold work exceptionally well, leave the skin on), carrots,  rutabagas, and turnips. Place on a heavy shallow baking sheet or roasting pan. Throw on a few  peeled shallots and a good handful of garlic cloves along with two quartered onions. Herbs are good too, I like a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Drizzle everything with some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and mix until everything is coated with oil.

Roast at 500° until everything is good and caramelized. This usually takes about 45 minutes, and I move everything around about halfway through. When done, remove from the oven and mix in a generous amount of freshly shopped parsley and cover for about 5 minutes. Serve.

You will never think of vegetables the same way again.

Don’t be afraid to get some color on your vegetables when using the above methods. You will find that the delicious looking golden brown veggies will have nothing on the black, almost burnt looking ones. I have seen children fight over a black carrot.

A great variation to try like this is to use chunks of squash and sweet potatoes. High heat can do wonderful things to mushrooms and veggies like broccoli too, although they need much less time. Try this with fresh broccoli and cauliflower:

Chop up your broccoli and cauliflower into equally sized florets and put into a shallow baking dish. Add lots of peeled garlic cloves and a shallot or two. Toss with olive oil to coat and season with a little salt and pepper. Roast at 475° until you start to see some color, then give everything a stir and put back into the oven until you start to see some black on the edges of the vegetables.

Drizzle lightly with a high quality olive oil, squeeze on some lemon juice and grate some lemon zest onto it as well. Stir. Grate a little more zest and a generous portion of pecorino cheese over the top of each serving.

This is not a cooking method that works for all types of food, but for the ones that it does it can take your meal to a whole new level. Most folks are afraid of cooking with such high heat, but not you. You are a home superstar chef!