Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who Knew That Chef Sara Moulton Was So Funny?

I always knew Sara Moulton could cook, of course. And that she seemed like a lovely person. I also knew that she could probably answer any question under the sun about cooking.

But after seeing her this morning at a local cookware store, demonstrating and talking about her new book, I suspect she could probably answer ANY question about ANYTHING or at least go down trying.

Sara had me at the very beginning of her dem, when someone asked her about canola oil.

You may know by now that I HATE canola oil. (I think it’s evil.) She wasn’t quite as excitable as I am about the issue, but she stated very clearly that she stays away from it, because the non-organic varieties have been genetically modified. She loves cooking with grapeseed oil. (SO DO I!)

Anyway, Sara was so affable and easy and fun that it was a delightful hour or so that we had with her, before she signed copies of her new book.

Now, THIS is interesting. As she was cooking, Sara talked about the three things that are conductors of flavor. Just think about that for a second. Can you guess what they are? (I only guessed two.)

Water, of course, is the first one. You add water to a pot with a chicken, carrots and onions and you’ll end up with a wonderful soup, redolent with the flavor of the poultry and the vegetables.

Fat is the second conductor of flavor that Sara talked about. Any time you sauté a chicken breast or filet of sole in oil, or even an onion, you’re carrying the flavor throughout the dish.

The third one is…alcohol. Interesting. I like that one the best. She gave the example of penne alla vodka and said if you compared the dish made WITH vodka to one made WITHOUT vodka, you’d be amazed at how much flavor the vodka adds. This is true EVEN THOUGH VODKA IS FLAVORLESS. It carries the flavor throughout the finished dish.

It’s almost like a brainteaser if you think about it too much. How can something with NO flavor affect the finished flavor so much? Really fascinating.

Here I mentioned that Sara’s book tour was sponsored by Chantal cookware and that today she was using induction burners. I wouldn’t want those to be my ONLY burners at home, but they have several advantages over gas and electric cooktops, Sara told us.

There is an enormous waste of energy in gas burners. You can literally see it burning away. Electric burners take way too long to get hot and also too long to cool down, once they are hot.

Induction is the most efficient kind of stovetop cooking available at the moment. The POT gets hot, not the burner. That’s also why it’s very suitable for demonstrations and cooking carts. If folks gather round, there’s no risk that anyone will get burned on a hot stove. That’s another thing - the stove itself is not hot. It doesn’t give off heat and raise the temperature in your kitchen.

A few more things:

Sara explained that most kitchen disasters can be ameliorated in some way. If something is too salty, water (not stock or any other liquid) will cut down on the saltiness.

If chocolate seizes up from being over heated or having a few drops of water mistakenly added, you can add a bit of vegetable oil to bring it back.

BUT there are two kitchen nightmares that CANNOT be fixed in any way.

The first is burned food. NOTHING can undo that.

And the second…I’ll give you a sec…

The second is when you’re full of hubris as a culinary school graduate and think you know everything and insist upon cooking the entire Thanksgiving dinner yourself and the potatoes end up in the food processor to be mashed. I know you know what happens, but Sara didn’t…those many years ago. The potatoes turned to a gluey mess and there was NOTHING she could do about it.

Lastly, why DID did Sara leave the Food Network? Without any bitterness, just stating the facts clearly, Sara said that when the new president came in, they cleaned house. Plus they were more interested in “entertainment and cleavage”. She thinks of herself as a teacher (as well as a chef) and that kind of entertainment sans teaching wasn’t for her.

Take my advice, as Sara goes around the country on her book tour, try to catch her at one of her appearances. You’ll see how very entertaining she is. Plus you’ll learn a thing or two. She’s smart and funny and be sure that you bring a cooking question or two. She’ll definitely have the answer.

One more thing, did you know that Morton Kosher salt has additives and Diamond doesn’t? I rushed home to see which one I had. Morton… with Yellow Prussiate of Soda. Oy vey.


Java Joggers said...

Ok, Sue... do you actually ever sleep?

PS - the brownies are delicious, so thanks. Sam's sharing some with his friends today. :)

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Very interesting post and good information. Sorry I missed hearing her in person.

Lisa said...

I miss Sara! I LOVED Cooking Live, and learned so much from her show.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I miss Sara Moulton on FN. Her explanation for her departure was nothing the rest of us didn't know. Maybe her show wasn't happy-perky-cutesy, but she was reasonably personable and gave good, strong, sold technique and recipes. I never thought her recipes looked overly complicated or full of hard-to-find ingredients.

Interesting thought about alcohol. I never would have considered it that way.

I will reiterate that I also hate canola oil. Yeck!

BTW, just thought I'd bring up that I found out what tagliere means. It's a cutting board! I guess the tagliere on the Gallo Nero menu referred to the cheese plates and the salumi plates. Tagliare means "to cut". Now we know. That was haunting me for a while.

Sue said...

I'm probably sleeping when you're out running.

Enjoy them!

Thank Linda,
Sara was great.

Hi Lisa,
Sara said SHE also learned a lot from doing her shows for so long. She's great!

I agree with you about Sara. Her show was about teaching and not about having some gorgeous hunks over (a la Ina) for a bridge party...although I don't mind that approach either when Ina is involved.

The alcohol thing was interesting.

Wow! I have to take all my questions about the universe to you, so you can ponder our place in the great scheme of well as esoteric translations.

Sheila said...

My husband is sold on induction... but I want fire! (as you know!) I hope Sara comes around here! I'd love to see her in action!

Phyllis said...

Oh dear, I use Morton kosher salt as well! And I always wondered why Sara Moulton left FN - what a shame about the "cleavage and entertainment" factor. Thanks for sharing your experience, almost as good as being there!