How to Boil Water
by Prof. Steve Holzinger
Editor's Note (1995): As a Professor of Culinary Arts, Stephen Holzinger taught Classical Cuisine at New York City Technical College for the last 30 years, including a course in Computer Literacy. Prof H, as he is called, has been surfing the Internet' for about a year. "It's a little weird, and very addictive," he says. "It's like being in touch with a whole world of people interested in the same things I am. Sometimes there are people who want to know about things I have done and know about. I enjoy answering them, and sharing what I know. Sometimes there are people cooking up a whole new thing, like authentic Thai vegetarian dumplings, and they share with me. I feel...I feel very stimulated...and very connected."
Fonds de Cuisine
Fonds de Cuisine mean stocks, like chicken stock and beef stock. It also means to me, in a larger sense, what Escoffier calls "Fundamental Elements of Cooking." These basic ideas and techniques are what I hope to write this column about, and so I begin with a quote from Escoffier which defines, for me, what good cooking is all about.
"Indeed, stock is everything in cooking, at least in French Cooking. Without it nothing can be done. If one's stock is good, what remains of the work is easy; if on the other hand, it is bad, or merely mediocre, it is quite hopeless to expect anything approaching a satisfactory result. The cook mindful of success, therefore will naturally direct his attention to the faultless preparation of his stock......" The Escoffier Cookbook, A. Escoffier, Crown Publishers, 1941
These words, which I first read over thirty years ago when I began teaching cooking using this book as my text, ring even truer now, in the light of my experience of cooks and cooking. I make no bones about it, The Escoffier Cookbook is where I found my best answers. As a teacher and a cook, I directed my attention to the understanding of the basic principles of cooking. Anything good I ever did, I first found in that book, and tried to make my preparation of those "fonds" as faultless as I could. The many mistakes I made were my own, but I tried to learn from them too. What I really learned in my thirty years of teaching is that you cannot own knowledge. You must give it away, freely, share it with others, and then it can become your own. The more you give, the more you get. There was never a day that I did not learn from my students, to whom this column is dedicated with thanks for fond memories of the good food and goods times we shared.
This interchange of ideas, teaching and learning is a habit that I find it impossible to break, now that I have retired from active teaching. I have found great stimulation here on the Internet, in rec.food.cooking, and in Chefs list and FoodWine list, and now on all the places on the Web. When I found the eGG on WWW, I knew that I just had to be part of the first food and cooking magazine on the Net. I hope you will be a part of this eGGsalad too, because you are part of my interactive recipe. Please send me your questions, your thoughts, your answers, your comfort foods and pet peeves, whatever. There will always be room for you in the eGGsalad. It is for you...
My primary focus will be on Fonds... the foundations that support the craft of cooking. I believe that there can be no real art of cuisine without first the fundamental underpinnings of craft. It is the understanding of the craft of cooking that makes artistic invention possible. Kate Heyhoe reminded me of what Julia Child said, so simply and so well: "If you have a good classical background, you can adapt yourself to anything at all. The main thing is to know how to cook."
So where shall we begin? Why at the beginning, of course!
How to Boil Water
Boil water in a covered pot, with the flame on high. Boiling takes place at 212 degrees Fahrenheit and is characterized by large bubbles that break the surface rapidly. If you use a lot of boiling water, and only a little food, the water will not stop boiling and stay at this temperature. I call this method French frying in water and it is the way I cook Chinese Broccoli or Broccoli Rabe. The intense heat brings the chlorophyll bearing cells (chloroplasts) to the surface of the vegetable, producing a brilliant green color. The short cooking time keeps the broccoli crisp, and there is little time for the water soluble nutrients to leach out. So now we put the bright green stalks on a plate and add a dash of oyster sauce, right from the bottle. This is a great dish to grace a meal! In Chinese cooking, this method is also used to equalize cooking times as well, and is an interesting topic in itself.
Of course, we could have taken the bitter broccoli (bitter is such a rare taste that I relish it) after we blanched it, and then sautéed it in olive oil with garlic and lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice darkens it, but who cares, it tastes just right!
Simmering, on the other hand, takes place at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, and can be recognized by small bubbles forming on the sides of the pot, but not roiling the surface. It is a slower and gentler method. Broccoli cooked this way looses its crispness and darkens. The darkening is due to its own food acids released into the water. Many older people insist that this is the only proper way to cook vegetables. A chef who taught with me, very proudly served a simple broccoli soup for lunch one day.
"My grandmother used to make this for lunch for me, and I love it," he told me. This is a man who was president of the Chefs de Cuisine, a professional chefs organization. Cook a little (or a lot) of garlic in some olive oil, add the broccoli and cover with water. Simmer until it is very tender. Add a generous amount of cooked pasta to the cooked broccoli in the water and lots of fragrant grated Parmigiana Reggiano and some more olive oil on top. Salt and pepper, of course.
It has been my experience that many good chefs learned to love food and cooking from their sainted grandmothers. It was surely so for me! Years ago, When Chef Albert Stockli, of blessed memory, presided at the Four Seasons, where the most elegant food in New York City was served, the cooks would make lunch for themselves in the old fashioned style of Grandma's home cooking, like you see in the best Bistro cooking today. It was so good! I remember...
To get back to the point, even the most simple ideas like boiling water, have power in cuisine. It has been my experience that the more simple the idea, the greater the power. This is why it is a fond...foundation. We will spend considerable time discussing the relationship of water temperature and the effect on the food cooked.
One perfect example: Hard cooked eggs, Oeufs Durs, as the French call them. They don't say 'hard boiled,' because the eggs should not be boiled hard. First let me define a perfect hard cooked egg, whether it be a hen egg or a quail egg. (Quail eggs only take 45 seconds because they are tiny.) The whites should be firm but tender. (overcooking toughens them) The yolks should be firm and a uniform yellow. (Undercooking leaves a darker yellow center, and overcooking leaves a green ring around the yolk caused by the union of iron and sulfur).
I place the eggs in cold water just to cover at first. Too often a cold egg will crack due to too rapid expansion when dropped into boiling water. I add salt and a little oil. The shell is porous, and I hope the oil will help them to peel well, but I'm not sure it does. Many eggs are treated with Sodium Silicate (water glass) to seal the pores and maintain freshness. They are always hard to peel. I cover the pot, and on a high heat, I bring them to the boil. As soon as they boil, I do one of two things. Either I cut the fire back to a simmer, and simmer for nine minutes (large eggs) and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and to shrink the white back off the inner membrane, OR, I turn the fire off, and let them stand covered for twenty-five minutes. This "green" method that saves energy, also produces a perfect, never overcooked result. This is an excellent example of the relation of water temperature, time and the effect on the product cooked.
What is more, now that we have our eggs cooked, we can make eGGsalad! Anybody got any great homemade mayonnaise recipes or eGGsalad recipes your Mom made, that can't be beat, for our next column? As a matter of fact, talking about future columns and mom's home cooking, May 14th is Mother's Day. Why don't we celebrate the day with a collection of favorite recipes and memories of your Mother or Grandmother. I'll start putting that collection together as you send the recipes to me for the May eGGsalad. Share your recipes with us, or send any other comments, or help me with my fractured French, or whatever you care to send, and I'll include the best in the Tours de Main, Tricks of the Trade section of the next eGGsalad. I'm planning to talk about stocks, and will have a few of my own recipes for you. I am using MasterCook II for Windows, and I will be including my recipes and yours in the Fonds cookbook I'm doing in that format.
Your recipes will have your name on them. There is a demo version of MasterCook II for Macintosh or Windows at Arion Software's home page. Try https://www.arion.com/info/demo.html. One of these days I will probably do an eGGsalad on this software, if you want me to. I will find an FTP site and upload to there on a regular basis, so you will be able to get and use all our recipes. No use being on the Net if we can't share. More on this later.
© 1995, Steve K. Holzinger. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1995—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.