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Learning to 'Understand' Ingredients and what Purpose they Serve

Many people want to learn 'how' to cook like a great chef or to be able to 'understand' ingredients and recipes. One of the most important aspects of creating great recipes, cooking great food and understanding what is happening in a recipe cycle is being able to understand ingredients. This goes for any and every ingredient within a recipe. Take for instance a recipe for an Asian stirfry dish, it would most likely have the following ingredients:

  • Oil
  • Some type of meat or seafood
  • Herbs and spices
  • Some type of sauce
  • An assortment of vegetables
  • Rice

The fist ingredient listed is oil, a stirfry recipe would benefit from several oils and at the same time choosing certain oils could reduce the quality of the recipe.

For instance, sesame seed oil is often used in Asian cuisine and has a wonderful flavor that is often associated with stirfry recipes. At the same time sesame seed oil also has a lower smoke point (the temperature at which the oil starts to break down, smoke and burn) than other oils and if the recipe is not handled with care the wonderful flavors from the sesame oil could be lost. Worse yet, the 'burnt' sesame seed oil could also taint the flavors of the stirfry. However if you know that sesame seed oil has a low smoke point you can avoid this type of a problem and your stir fry will benefit from the great natural flavors of the oil.

Another example from our stirfry dish is the rice.

There are many different types of rice available today, from Jasmine and Basmati to Wild rice and all of the commercial blends that are available. Understanding these different types of rice, where they come from and what their primary uses are, will allow you to choose a rice that will compliment you stirfry dish. My choice would be Jasmine which is also known as 'sticky rice'. Jasmine is also used extensively thought Asia and has a very fragrant aroma and would complement our stirfry dish very nicely.

So as you can see there are many choices available when cooking. Understanding different ingredients really makes it easier to cook great tasting food. There are lots of way to start gaining an education about ingredients, here are some of my favorites:

Read the ingredient labels of everything you eat and drink.

Here are some ideas to get you started condiments, pre-made sauces, juices, sausages, rice blends, pasta blends, soups, frozen "reheat dinners". Doing this gives you an idea of what types of ingredients are in the things we eat day to day. One day at work I was reading the ingredients to "Frenches yellow mustard" want to know what makes it that bright yellow color? The spice turmeric, reading labels helps you understand recipes!

Ask lots of questions when you have the chance.

This goes for when you can ask someone who might know, a great chef your working with, the butcher at your local market, a forum on a chef related site, etc . . . When you have the chance to ask questions do so!

The usual place to gain information such as books, classes, the Internet.

Understanding recipe ingredients will help you to become the best possible chef or cook you can be. Remember to always have fun and never be afraid to experiment!

This article came from Chef Brian Johnson's web site Awesome Chef Recipes (site no longer available)

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