Cooking Tips rss

Ideas, advice, and what to make now from the Chowhound community and CHOW editors.

Flame-Grilled Avocados

It may sound like a weird idea to throw avocados on the grill, but they’re great prepared this way, say Chowhounds. “A-m-a-z-i-n-g,” raves jmullen1251, who calls grilled avocado an “item of wonder.”

Start with very slightly underripe avocados, recommends Sam Fujisaka. “Ready when firm, slightly charred on the outside and hot and almost cooked in the inside,” he says. Cut the avocado in half or in quarters, leave the skin on, and grill cut-side down.

Hounds eat grilled avocados on their own, as a side dish, or use them in salads and salsas. You can brush them with oil and balsamic vinegar or mango juice and rum before grilling, or honey and lime juice after. Claudette grills avocados, peaches, shrimp, and halved heads of romaine to make a great smoky salad. (Use very light dressings so as not to overwhelm the smokiness, she recommends.) Old Spice loves kabobs of chunks of chicken and avocado with grape tomatoes and a lime-cumin vinaigrette.

Board Link: Grilled Avocado?

What to Do with Farro

Farro is a relative of wheat that is common in Italy. It’s usually sold in a semi-pearled form, says Zeldog, in which its husk is mostly but not fully milled away, so it cooks more quickly but retains some of the nuttiness of the whole grain. Chowhounds use farro in soups and salads as they would barley, wheat berries, or rice. EvZE thinks it’s very versatile. “Think of it like pasta,” he says. “You can have it hot, cold, in a salad, in soup, with beans, meat, side dish, main dish, etc.”

Hounds love farro salads. EvZE mixes farro with rice (cooked separately), chopped tomatoes, cucumber, green onion, and a vinaigrette dressing made from 3 parts olive oil to 1 part sherry vinegar, plus salt and pepper. Stuffed Monkey likes farro with dried cranberries, pecans, and a simple red wine vinegar and oil dressing containing a touch of Boyajian orange oil. Other favorite recipes include warm farro salad with roasted vegetables and fontina cheese and farro salad in grilled portobellos.

Another popular preparation is farotto, which is farro cooked risotto-style. Just substitute farro for the rice in your favorite risotto recipe, recommends C. Hamster. MSK is a fan of Farro Risotto with Asparagus and Fava Beans.

For breakfast, try CHOW’s Coconut Farro Porridge with Mango.

Board Link: Great Farro ideas?

Expert Fried Chicken

Getting fried chicken just right, so it’s cooked through but not overbrowned, crispy but not greasy, takes a bit of know-how.

First, make sure your fat is hot enough. The temperature will drop once you add a few pieces of chicken, notes ipsedixit. And don’t crowd that fryer, because the temperature will drop too low. Uncle Bob heats the oil to 365°F to 375°F to minimize the drop in temperature and speed its recovery. This will also give you crisper, less greasy results, he says.

Dark meat pieces take up to twice as long to cook. Candy cooks the dark and white pieces in separate batches for this reason. The best way to tell if the chicken is thoroughly cooked is to use an instant-read thermometer. If you must cut into it to determine doneness, it’s done when the juices run clear. (It’s normal for dark meat to appear pink at the bone when cooked through, notes chef chicklet.) Using small to medium pieces and bringing them to room temperature before cooking helps them cook through without overbrowning.

If the exterior of the chicken is done before it’s cooked through, TrishUntrapped recommends placing it on a rack on a baking sheet and popping it in a 400°F oven to finish cooking. This will also dry the exterior so it’s not greasy.

For start-to-finish instructions, check out CHOW’s buttermilk fried chicken tutorial.

Board Link: Fried Chicken Help Please!

Rhubarb Junkies

Similar to peaches, rhubarb has a striking, unmatched flavor and an achingly short season. So in springtime when it’s ripe, those who love it gorge on it. As well as old standbys like strawberry-rhubarb pie and rhubarb crisp, hounds find ways to use rhubarb in ways both savory and sweet.

Rhubarb is of course a classic dessert ingredient. Candy is crazy for millefoglie with grappa cream and rhubarb, an Italian version of the classic French pastry mille-feuille. Other hounds make upside-down cakes with rhubarb instead of pineapple, or rhubarb custard pies without a strawberry in sight.

On the savory side, todao uses rhubarb in a rhubarb-garlic quick bread that is reportedly “heavenly” toasted for sandwiches, and kaaris loves this stuffed butternut squash, with rhubarb and Italian sausage.

Rhubarb makes wonderful drinks too: “Rhubarb syrup + Pellegrino = a refreshing soda not unlike a natural, homemade Ting!” says kattyeyes. Here’s a rhubarb syrup recipe that includes rosewater, a common rhubarb pairing in some parts of the world, or berbadeerface just makes it with a quart of water and a cup of sugar for each pound of rhubarb. Bring to a boil, simmer for an hour, strain, chill, and mix with vodka.

Board Link: What is your favorite rhubarb recipe?

Wine for the Sauce, Wine for Me

Everyone knows the old saw about not bothering to cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink, but ipsedixit wants to know its converse: When is a wine too precious to go in the pan?

Opinions diverged wildly, of course. Some hounds say that wine quality makes a major difference (rebs ruined a perfectly good coq au vin using Two Buck Chuck instead of a nice $35 bottle of Burgundy), while others reckon they can’t tell much of a difference either way.

Sallie breaks down her reasoning most convincingly: It’s not price that matters, it’s the character of the wine. “Something with a lower alcohol content, minimal oak, higher acidity = good for a braise,” she says. Think Chianti, Pinot Noir, Côtes du Rhône. When using whites, she advises, similarly avoid oaky tasting wine like Chablis or Chardonnay. “A lot of cheap Chards have fake oak flavoring put into them which is extremely weird tasting in a pan sauce,” she says. A better inexpensive option, she says, is Chenin Blanc, which is very neutral.

Board Link: When is a wine too good to cook with?

Natural Wraps to Keep Fish Moist

zeprosnepsid wants to use “something natural” to wrap fish in for baking. Blanched lettuce leaves came to mind, but there were none in the house. What else can one use?

Chowhounds had lots of ideas, including:

• banana leaves
• corn husks: let them dry in a low oven or in the sun and then re-hydrate in hot water, says Sam Fujisaka
• grape leaves
• lotus leaves: “If you use dried lotus leaves, soak them in warm water first for about half an hour,” says Sam D
• cabbage
• kale
• Swiss chard
• fresh herbs like mint or basil
• spinach

Board Link: What can I wrap fish in to bake it that is natural?

Creamy Potato Salad 101

There are a few tricks to ensure potato salad with creamy dressing has great texture and is as flavorful as possible, say hounds. You can use waxy white and red potatoes or starchy russets, depending on the potato texture you prefer. According to alwayscooking, starchy potatoes will absorb more dressing. Several hounds insist that, for best flavor and texture, you should cook the potatoes with their skins on, then peel them while hot. Be sure to cook them only until just done.

For the most flavorful potatoes, many agree that the trick is to toss the potatoes with vinegar while they are still warm (red wine, white wine, and cider vinegars are all popular). Allow the potatoes to cool before adding your other ingredients. Karl S recommends rinsing sliced white onions before grating or chopping them if you use them, to make them less harsh. And Kater notes that you should be generous with salt, as the salad will taste less salty once chilled.

In addition to vinegar and mayonnaise, hounds like to season their potato salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs, celery or onion salt, mustard, chopped dill pickles and a bit of pickle juice, capers, chopped parsley, fresh chives, and lemon zest.

As an alternative, DanaB shares an unfussy recipe she got from her stepmother: Ahead of time, chop a bunch of scallions and/or chives, mix with a couple of cups of mayonnaise, and refrigerate. Later, boil peeled waxy potatoes until tender, cool, and cube. Mix generously with the prepared mayo and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper. “While this recipe sounds deceptively simple,” she says, “the outcome is amazing.”

Siobhan likes this creamy potato salad, or try CHOW’s Potato Salad with Peas and Mint.

Board Link: ISO of the best potato salad

Great Ways to Use Tarragon

Tarragon is a leafy herb with a faintly licoricelike flavor that marries well with eggs, chicken, and fish. Try it in chicken salad, or cook pork with tarragon, orange, and honey, recommends mojoeater.

oakjoan makes poulet au vinaigre by browning chicken parts with onion and garlic, then adding white wine vinegar, tarragon, and good stock, and cooking them until done. “Fabulous with crusty bread and a big salad,” she says. Val calls chicken Louisa “a lovely and easy dish” that uses tarragon. And Nigella Lawson’s tarragon chicken is marinated with 3/4 cup of the herb.

You can also make flavorful condiments with tarragon. Make a compound butter, suggests baseballfan: Add tarragon to softened butter, then roll into a log. You can freeze this and cut off portions as needed. It’s delicious on grilled seafood, pasta, and baked potatoes, baseballfan says. Fritter infuses vinegar with tarragon by heating it, then adding the tarragon, taking it off the heat, and letting the tarragon steep until the vinegar cools, then straining.

Karen_Schaffer adds chopped tarragon to green salads for a lovely effect. Channa thinks green goddess dressing is best with lots of tarragon. And check out CHOW’s Shallot-Tarragon Jam.

Board Link: What to do with a huge bunch of tarragon?

Salty Secret to Creamy, Tender Beans

Contrary to conventional wisdom, adding salt to dried beans before cooking does not make them tough. But adamshoe reports that America’s Test Kitchen recently advocated soaking beans in salt water (three tablespoons table salt and one gallon water) for 8 to 24 hours before cooking. Drain and rinse to remove remaining salt, then cook as usual in unsalted water until tender.

adamshoe tried this method for baked beans, and says they were “very tender and creamy,” with “few ‘exploded’ beans.” alwayscooking concurs, saying her beans cooked in just 40 minutes and were “absolutely creamy and remained whole.” She notes that they had a slightly salty flavor, so she simply reduced the amount of salt in the dish she made with them.

Board Link: Brining beans? Yes!

Crack-Like Kale

Kale baked until crisp in a low oven is can’t-stop-eating-it good, say Chowhounds. Ruth Lafler had some at a party, and says, “everyone was amazed at how fun and delicious it is, especially for something that easy.” “Hot damn this is good!” raves extrasalty. “The first batch didn’t even make it from the baking sheet to the serving bowl.”

Here’s how: Remove stems then tear kale leaves into pieces. Toss with a tablespoon of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Place on a baking rack set over a sheet pan and bake at 250°F for about 25 minutes, tossing about halfway through. “The kale will darken in color and diminish in volume dramatically,” says yumyum. “[The] result is a crispy crunchy snack that makes it easy to get your kale.”

Hounds warn against using too much salt, since it becomes concentrated as the kale shrinks. scuzzo has tossed it with a mixture of wasabi, soy sauce, garlic powder, olive oil, and salt, and says it was “a stellar combo.” He adds, “A bit of cayenne is nice too!”

Board Link: Jacques Pepin’s crispy kale