Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What is Slow Cooking?

Cooking is a balance between time and temperature. Raise the heat and everything speeds up: flames jump, pots sizzle, grease spits. Lower the heat, however, and the turmoil subsides. Time stretches. Tough fibers soften. Beautifully complex flavors emerge. Aromas billow, and all you have to do is slow down and relax.

In a world where convenience is synonymous with speed, slowing down to save time seems like an oxymoron…but that is exactly what happens when you start to incorporate slow cooking recipes into your cooking repertoire. You can set up a chicken for gentle roasting or a slow-baked casserole after the morning coffee and bring it to the table at suppertime, with little thought and no effort in between. 

The advantage is much more than a matter of convenient timing. By keeping temperatures moderate, proteins firm more gently, making finished meats more tender, custards softer, fish moister, and casseroles creamier. The textural improvements from low-temperature cooking are remarkable. 

And the techniques are almost fool proof. Because the cooking temperature is so close to the temperature the food should be when it is perfectly cooked, there is practically no chance of overcooking. For that reason the timing ranges that I give in recipes are intentionally broad. When I say that veal shanks can braise for 5 to 8 hours, I recognize that 3 hours is a long time difference. But the fact is that although the shanks will be perfectly done in 5 hours, going longer will not dry them out or make them lose quality. By cooking slow you can't mess things up!

I have been a professional cook for 40 years, and have published more than 20 cookbooks. Before I started working on Cooking Slow I thought I knew how to braise, and roast, and bake, and steam. And in many ways I did, but by turning down the heat, what I thought I knew has shifted, and the food coming out of our kitchen has gotten more sensual and delicious. 

I continue to try out new techniques and find variations on the recipes that have already been published in Cooking Slow. In upcoming posts I will share those discoveries. I hope you buy a book and let me know how slowing down works for you.