6 Cooking Techniques to Master...from the Masters
French chef Jacques Pépin, whose massive Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food comes out this month, admits there's a mystique to the quintessential, touch-it-and-it-deflates, heavenly egg creation. But soufflés aren't as difficult to make or fragile to handle as people think, he says. First, and this is key, you need to avoid over- or underbeating the egg whites. They should be firm but still soft, and have just lost their shine. Second, have all the other components ready (i.e., the soufflé's sweet or savory element) because if the beaten egg whites sit, their air bubbles will start to deflate. Third, bake the soufflé until a knife inserted in the center is still slightly wet, which will indicate that the center is just a bit undercooked (a good thing) and the outer edges won't be overcooked. And finally, serve it right away. Soufflés tend to deflate quickly (even just five minutes out of the oven). If you want to eke out a few more minutes of puffiness while your guests ooh and aah, bake the soufflé in a gratin dish. It won't be quite as high as it would be in a classic soufflé dish (which has taller sides), but it won't fall in on itself when you serve it either.
Get the recipe: Cheese Soufflé
Crunchy, light and tender schnitzel is a classic of Austrian and German cuisine, but the technique for making it—pounding the meat, dipping it in egg and bread crumbs, and frying it—pops up in many other cuisines too. To get it right, Kurt Gutenbrunner, chef of the New York City restaurants Wallsé, Café Sabarsky and Blaue Gans, recommends pounding the meat between two sheets of plastic wrap or in a plastic bag to an even thickness. When it comes to the egg mixture, he adds a spoon or two of heavy cream to make the eggs fluffier. He also takes care not to beat too much, since more loosely beaten eggs will better encase the meat, which will result in a more voluminous crust. After coating the meat in bread crumbs, Gutenbrunner fries it immediately in oil and butter, because when the butter melts and browns, it imparts a delicious nutty flavor.
Get the recipe: Wiener Schnitzel
If, heaven forbid, you could only have one dough for crust in your repertory, this would be the one to choose, says Dorie Greenspan, whose new app, Baking with Dorie, has more than 100 videos showing everything from flipping a tarte Tatin onto a plate to making piecrust. Greenspan's flaky, flavorful, easy-to-roll dough will work for pies, galettes, turnovers or tarts. To get a smooth crust with an even thickness, take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit for a few minutes. Using a rolling pin (Greenspan loves Matfer Bourgeat's nylon rolling pins so much, she has three of them), start from the center, roll out and come back to the center. Give the dough a quarter turn, then roll out and come back again. If the dough starts to get misshapen (you want a circle), make the turns even smaller (e.g., an eighth turn). If the dough is sticking to the surface you're rolling on, slide it out of the way so you can reflour the surface. Flip the dough occasionally, too, so you are rolling both sides (this video shows Greenspan's trick for using the pin to move and flip the dough). If the dough splits in spots, roll across the split in a perpendicular direction.
Get the recipe: Flaky Piecrust
Photo: Lucy Lean
Famed New Orleans restaurant Brennan's lays claim to the iconic dessert, a combination of caramelized ripe bananas, brown sugar, rum, butter and cinnamon, set on fire and then poured over vanilla ice cream. In 1951, Chef Paul Blangé supposedly named it after loyal customer Richard Foster. Today, Chef Lazone Randolph, who's been at Brennan's for 47 years, is the resident expert. He's performed the flambé ritual in the restaurant's dining room countless times without any accidents. And while the dramatic flames are this recipe's biggest attraction (this guide to safely setting food on fire covers the basics), there's one important factor many home cooks overlook: the caramelized brown sugar. At Brennan's, Lazone makes sure the sugar has become syrupy and darkened before he adds the rum, because as soon as the flame from the ignited rum goes out, the dish is finished. Once the sugar is ready, he slightly tilts the pan away, pours the liquor in and ignites it. To make a real impression on guests, use a silver chafing dish (and don't forget to dim the lights).
Get the recipe: Brennan's Bananas Foster
Photo: Mark Ferri
This New York classic—a kind of fizzy chocolate milk that contains neither eggs nor cream—is enjoying a resurgence lately, popping up at new-generation soda fountains and fancy restaurants in places like New York, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon. A recipe appears in Junior's Dessert Cookbook, based on treats from the landmark chain with four locations on the East Coast. Alan Rosen, grandson of Junior's founder, Harry Rosen, has a very specific method. He uses Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup (a New Yorker article reported on how Fox's fared against a upscale version in a taste test), ice-cold whole milk (you can mix it with ice to get it colder than refrigerator temperature) and equally frigid, fresh seltzer (ensure big, nose-tickling bubbles by either making your own or buying Vintage brand, which we find to be one of the bubbliest seltzers in the supermarket). If you aren't using Junior's special glass that shows exactly how much of each ingredient to use, measure carefully. Put the syrup in first, then pour in the milk (but don't stir yet), and lastly, add the seltzer, pouring it over the back of a long-handled spoon. Keep pouring and stirring vigorously until a thick white foam rises to the top.
Get the recipe: Junior's Chocolate Egg Cream
Michelin-starred San Francisco chef Mourad Lahlou, author of the forthcoming cookbook Mourad: New Moroccan, adheres only slightly to tradition when making North African food, and that includes his baba ghanoush. Most recipes suggest baking the eggplant first, but Lahlou chars it instead—and, even more unorthodoxly, he chars the flesh, not the skin, which eliminates all bitterness and gives it a sweeter flavor. It's a technique that works for leeks, fennel and beets too. Though bitterness isn't usually an issue with those vegetables, they still get a huge flavor boost. To do it, make sure you turn the fan over your stove to high; in this case, there isn't much distinction between charring and burning, so be prepared for a strong smell. Set a large, dry cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Let it warm up for about five minutes; then char the eggplant slices (leave the skin on; it holds the slices together as they cook) for about 10 minutes per side, using a spatula to press down on them until the bottoms are blackened. Let them steam in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes; then peel off the skin and puree.
Keep reading: Gail Simmons' 8 rules to cook by