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Amuse Bouche: More things every (non)cook should know

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By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist

Two weeks ago, I gave you some simple tips on entertaining, hosting friends or just expanding your options. This time, we are going to go a bit deeper. Now, you won’t just entertain, you will also impress.


A great burger. First, don’t undervalue a quality bun that is the same size as the final cooked patty. Next, purchase quality beef. When patting, do not over squish or mold in your hand, it will take on a texture like meatloaf and will be chewier, which is not always ideal. A pan seared burger will always be more moist and flavorful than a grilled one, unless the grill uses wood rather than gas flame. And incorporate a couple ice cubes and a tiny spoon of peanut butter in the meat as you season it. Trust me.

At least one dessert. Panna cotta is an easy custard thickened with gelatin rather than egg yolks, and if you use coconut milk, it can also be dairy free. Use equal parts heavy cream and milk, and one eighth of that amount of granulated sugar, with either one tablespoon of extract of choice, or one cup of any fruit flavor you want. Place gelatin in ½ cup cold water for five minutes. Heat remaining ingredients to boil and stir in gelatin. Pour into cups and set for a minimum of four hours or overnight. For an upgrade, add a bit of additional fruit in the bottom of your dish before pouring in the hot liquid.

A good sauce, any sauce. Here’s a secret of mine. If you make a hollandaise with warm oil rather than butter, it will be far more stable until you are ready to serve it.

The principles of global ingredients. There are three universal vegetables that, despite their origin, you will find on every continent. They are onions, peppers and tomatoes. From there, many ingredients have ethnic crossover, it’s just a matter of how they are incorporated. For example, cilantro and coconut milk are used from Mexico to Asia, while hot peppers are used throughout the world.

Ethnic braising. Put simply, cooking at a low temperature for a long time in liquid to tenderize tougher but flavorful cuts of meat. A good standard is 225 degrees for six hours. A basic rule that covers a lot of ground is to use red or white wine along with thyme and garlic with Western European braises, particularly Spain and France. Use thin animal-based stocks such as chicken and pork for Latin braises, and use coconut milk for east Asian dishes, particularly Vietnamese and Thai.

Food and wine pairings. One that fits us well in America is Cabernet Sauvignon and a rib eye steak. Another pair to remember is pinot noir with game birds, or pinot and poultry. Third, an acidic Sauvignon blanc does well with any goat cheese or flat flavor on the palate. Two more guidelines are that the wine should match the color of the meat. And if pairing with dessert, the wine should be the sweeter one.

Pickling and curing. This is a great way to add depth and texture to otherwise common foods, such as salmon or garden vegetables. Scandinavians wrote the book on pickling and preserving. And their pickling method is as easy as one two three. Or in other words, one-part vinegar, two parts sugar and three parts water.

Heat the water until it is warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Stir together those three ingredients and cool. Add any fruit or vegetable for as short as 48 hours but you can also leave them in the mixture and eat as desired.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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