Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Broccoli Makeover

YouTube Link: Broccoli Makeover
More Videos: Helen's Kitchen Channel

Here are the ingredients.  You can watch the video for the steps.

Must have:
1 large head broccoli
Splash of water
Salt (taste and adjust)
2 Tbsp olive oil (or as needed)
1 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice (taste and adjust)

1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of chili flakes
2 Tbsp toasted pinenuts
2 Tbsp golden raisins, plumped in hot water for 5 min, drained, dried
Pomegranate molasses (just a drizzle -- it's very sweet and tart)

I love cooking in vacation home kitchens.  Don't get me wrong -- it's a painful experience.  The reason I find it so educational is that it reminds me what it's like to cook on an electric stove with old style coils that never seam to get hot enough and don't heat evenly.

I finished making this broccoli video right before going to the Berkshires for the weekend.  Since the large cooking area of the skillet was very helpful for this dish, I was going to tell you to buy a pan with a huge cooking area.  It didn't need to be expensive.  The one I used in the video was from a Christmas Tree Shop and it cost me $17.

That pan is a poor choice fore searing a steak, but I find it invaluable in pan roasting vegetables.  Since I don't need to deglaze the pan after browning my vegetables, I don't mind the teflon coating.  It provides a huge cooking area because the sides are not sloped, yet is light enough that I don't dread washing it.  On my large gas burners it heats up like a charm and cooks very evenly, but on that dinky vacation home stove, it was a challenge.  The burner was too small to heat up the periphery of the pan and I had to play musical chairs with my broccoli to make sure every piece had its chance to brown.

When I got back, I edited the part about the huge pan recommendation out of the video.  You know your stove best.  If you don't think it will handle a 12 inch pan, do this dish in batches in a smaller pan.  Keep in mind that every cooking advice should be taken with a grain of salt.  I find that many cooks (including professionals) concentrate a lot on dos and don'ts instead of on why.  If you understand why the recipe is asking you to do something, you can make it work in your kitchen.  

Why doesn't mean we need to get into molecules, enzymes, or other food science gibberish.  For example, if your chicken stuck to the pan, you don't need to know why that happened on the molecular level.  You simply need to make an observation that damp proteins stick to stainless steel skillets.  Once you know that, when to salt becomes obvious too.  If you start paying attention to your ingredients, you'll notice that proteins get damp within 5-10 minutes after you sprinkle salt on them.  This should lead you to a conclusion that it's probably best to sear that protein quickly before the salt makes it damp.  When I explain the salting procedure in class, everyone is concentrating very hard on memorizing the following:

  • Salt the day before, refrigerate, dry, cook
  • OR
  • Dry, salt, cook immediately
Instead, it would be helpful if people memorized the goals instead of procedure.
  • Protein needs to be salted (this gives it flavor and helps retain moisture)
  • Protein needs to be dry (this helps it brown)
You can derive the procedure if you understand the goal and adopt that procedure to your constraints.  

Sorry for this little philosophical diversion.  So, how did that broccoli taste on vacation?  Awesome!  I simply had to move it around until every piece was brown.  I know, I know.  In the video I explicitly say, "Don't move the broccoli."  But instead of thinking about it as a step in the procedure, let's think about it as a goal.  The goal is to brown the broccoli.  Once it browns, you can move it around all you want.  So I simply had to wait for some pieces to brown and then move them out of the way to free up hot spots for other pieces.

The inquisitive readers among you are probably thinking, "So Helen, why does browning makes broccoli taste good?"  Oh, I am sure there are molecules doing all sorts of crazy things and creating flavor compounds.  Is this Maillard reaction or caramelization -- I am not sure, and I really don't care.  I have just noticed that browning = yum on most of the ingredients, and that's good enough for me.


Patty said...

I bet this same method would work great with halved brussel sprouts. Can't wait to try.

Helen Rennie said...

Yes, it does :) Also does wonders for green beans, particularly the big flat romanos.

Helen Rennie said...

Hi Patty,

I take it back about brussel sprouts. I tested it this weekend and they need way more softening than this method provides. I've tried it many times on green beans before and it is indeed good. But a brussel sprout video is in the works :) Meanwhile, here is my go to brussel sprout method that is very tasty.

Maria said...

Helen, you are brilliant! My almost-3-year old gobbled this up :)

Helen Rennie said...

Awesome! One day I want to have a cooking show where I get picky eaters of all ages to eat something they always thought they hated ;)