A great deal of mastering cooking is understanding the basics. If chefs lack a solid foundation, they’ll have a hard time adding on layers of flavors, techniques, and advanced skills.
That said, once you know culinary fundamentals, it may be time to branch out. By expanding your culinary horizons and trying new techniques, you can make yourself more valuable to current and future employers – and have some fun along the way.
If you’re a culinary daredevil, read on to learn about a few advanced cooking techniques that may help you throughout your career.
1. Anti-Griddle and Liquid Nitrogen – For Flash Freezing
Almost every chef is familiar with the griddle – the flat metal surface that generates even controlled heat. As a chef, you likely turn to the griddle to saute onions, churn out stacks of pancakes, and cook burgers.
However, you may not be familiar with the griddle’s cold cousin, the anti-griddle. This device pumps refrigerant to generate an extremely cold surface – as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. This cold surface flash freezes sauces, foams, and purees into a solid or semi-solid state. In less than 90 seconds, the anti-griddle can transform liquids into morsels with crunchy outer shells and cool, creamy centers.
Often used in molecular gastronomy, the anti-griddle was dreamt up by the team at the famous Chicago restaurant Alinea. They collaborated with innovators at PolyScience to come up with this new piece of cooking equipment.
Even if you don’t have access to an anti-griddle, you can still play around with flash-freezing by using liquid nitrogen. With a temperature of -320 degrees Fahrenheit, this material quickly freezes food and reduces water content, allowing chefs to create powdered oils and frozen foams.
2. Chaunk – For Fragrant Spices
While whole spices like cumin seeds and cardamom pods bring warming flavors to any dish, heating these spices in a pan takes their aroma to a whole new level. Blooming spices over dry heat is a common technique in kitchens, but this isn’t the only way of bringing out flavors.
“There’s just so much to learn. No one will ever, ever know everything about cooking. It’s just impossible.”
Chef Ben Robinson*
Another way of getting a similar effect is to fry those spices in a hot fat, like oil or ghee. Blooming spices in fat is called chaunk. Also referred to as baghar or tadka, this cooking method originated in India and parts of the Middle East.
Different regions have their own preferred fat sources and combinations of spices. Cumin, mustard seeds, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and cinnamon are common, along with fresh aromatics like onion, ginger, chiles, and garlic.
Making chaunk is a straightforward process, but mastering the balance of flavors requires a bit of experience and practice. For example, a flavorful oil like coconut may work well for a chaunk served alongside a chutney. But it might compete with the flavors of saag paneer — a spinach and cheese dish.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts students explore the balance of taste, aroma, and texture as part of their curriculum. This focus on the flavor profile helps them to see a dish as a whole, so they can anticipate how the chaunk will impact the final product!
Students can also explore techniques and global flavors in the World Cuisines course, where they take a culinary “road trip” through the food traditions and flavors of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.
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3. Engastration – For Creative Layering
If you know of the turducken, or a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, you’re already familiar with the one modern form of this cooking method. Yet this technique of treating food like nesting dolls, officially called engastration, has existed for hundreds of years, all the way back to the Middle Ages. Another savory engastration creation is Pandora’s cushion – a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a quail – which was popular in the 19th century.
On the sweet side is the Cherpumple, which contains three pies (cherry, pumpkin, and apple), all stacked and cooked inside a cake. In recent years, pastry chefs have taken creative liberty with this idea and stacked all types of pies inside cake. Their name for this type of engastration? A PieCaken!
Engastration undeniably leads to impressive entrees and desserts, but it can be complicated. These creations can take several days to complete, since chefs need to cook the individual parts separately. And chefs must be extra careful to ensure that each component is cooked to a safe temperature before eating.
Before playing with engastration, chefs should have a thorough understanding of food safety. At Escoffier, culinary arts students start their programs with Culinary Foundations, which covers basic techniques like food safety and sanitation.
4. Sous Vide – For Tender and Evenly Cooked Meals
Although the French term sous vide translates to under vacuum in English, this literal meaning explains part of this cooking technique. The entire method involves tightly sealing meat, vegetables, or other ingredients in a plastic bag and then slowly cooking them in a pot of simmering water. By keeping the water at a stable temperature throughout the entire cooking process, chefs are able to achieve supremely tender pork chops and evenly-cooked chicken breasts.
Another benefit of sous vide cooking is the lack of guesswork regarding cook time. While roasting, grilling, or sautéing typically involve checking meat with a thermometer or piercing potatoes with a fork, the sous vide method allows chefs to obtain perfectly-cooked ingredients without any poking or prodding.
To maintain the crucial stable water temperature, chefs typically rely on a specific tool called an immersion circulator. This tool draws in water, heats it up, and spits it back out, leading to a stable temperature. Another useful – but not completely necessary – tool is a vacuum sealer. While a hand-sealed airtight bag can do the trick, a vacuum-sealed bag can take sous vide cooking to the next level.
First, Master the Culinary Basics
Before you can tackle advanced cooking methods, it’s important to master the basics.
“Techniques in the culinary arts are the building blocks for everything. I go as far as to say that food multiplied by technique equals dish. And therefore without good techniques, you’re either always going to wing it or be unsure of what to do. But with knowledge of the techniques, you will be a lot more confident.”
Chef Jesper Jonsson, Boulder Campus Chef Instructor*
Culinary school and pastry school can provide you with a solid understanding of these fundamentals and help introduce you to talented mentors and a newfound sense of culinary confidence. Contact us today to learn more about our programs.
Looking for more tips and techniques in the culinary arts?
- Food Styling Tips from Escoffier Chefs
- The Art of Food Presentation
- Correcting Some Common Kitchen Disasters
This article was originally published on December 28, 2015, and has since been updated.
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.