Basic Principles of Cookery

Cooking involves the application of heat to foodstuffs. The basic object of cooking is to tenderize (or in the case of flour goods such as cake, to stabilize) food so that it will be easier to digest. There are two other reasons for cooking food. One is related to taste and the physical aspects of eating and nourishment of the body; the other concerns social values related to the preparation and sharing of meals. These are the foundations on which the attitude of the professional cook is built. Cookery, then, is not only concerned with tenderizing food but also with:

The creation of flavours through browning and combining different foods

The concentration of flavours by reduction through boiling or simmering

The absorption of flavours through long cooking or slow shallow-frying (sweating)

What marks out the professional cook is the ability to make food combinations into attractive, nourishing and appropriate meals for people, whether in hospitals, offices, motels or restaurants. Concern for cooking does not finish with the work at the stove, fryer or steamer, but continues to the point where the meal is consumed. A cook must always be conscious of the expectations and needs of the patient, guest or customer.

By way of example, part of the cure for a patient in hospital is appropriate and well-prepared meals. Medicine is helpful, but people are considered only to be well when they do not need medicine and are eating a full diet. In a restaurant, a customer may be celebrating an important occasion or hoping to impress a guest with the meal you have cooked. In hostels and institutions the meals represent home and the security that goes with it. In a cafeteria, the plating of the meal and the recognition of the customer in the queue is just as important as the hours of work which have gone on beforehand.

The skill involved in cookery is not only concerned with recipes, but also with the ability to control the amount and intensity of heat applied to a wide range of foodstuffs. The teaching of professional cookery should emphasise this skill. If the principles and methods of cookery can be mastered, any recipe can be prepared to an acceptable standard. The recipes in this book have been selected, in part, to give this experience.

Here are some more of the basic principles to think about when it comes to cooking food, and how it can affect the finished outcome of the meal that ends up on your plate. The factors that affect the amount and intensity of heat applied to food are as follows.

1. The softness or hardness of the food.

2. Whether it is of animal or vegetable origin.

3. The size of the pieces being cooked.

4. The combination of ingredients and whether they are dried, fresh or frozen.

5. The type of heat to be applied.

6. The quality and type of saucepans and utensils. This knowledge can be gained only by using various utensils on different commercial cooking appliances. Good cooking cannot be achieved on thin-bottomed, uneven pans, and these must be avoided at all cost.

Too much heat will result in overcooking, dryness, shrinkage, burning and disintegration (the food falls apart and the texture is mushy). Too little heat may result in poor flavour development, flat or watery taste, softness, poor colour and loss of nutritional value. Think of these points when you are cooking.

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