High heat cookery
Sometimes you gotta blast it.
In the summertime my cooking exists in two poles: crisp & raw or charred & caramelized.
Often I’m drawn to the lightness of raw produce. I grate carrots on the big side of a box grater for a bright, chilled salad. I puree cucumbers, fresh from the market, into a creamy soup with raw cashews. I eat crisp shoots and greens tossed about in lemon agrumato and flaky salt. This lightness rewards the belly and combats the heat.
But there is something about the flame, the unforgiving application of intense heat, that excites me as well. It feels natural and necessary. Cooking under high heat coaxes sweetness from ingredients, it rewards the eater and reminds you: there is life inside your food! Potential awaits your plate!
I wanted to share two suggestions using high heat cooking for your repertoire. No grill needed - these techniques are centered around the oven and the stovetop. They are recipes, sure, but perhaps they are more like guiding lights, suggestions to unlock new pathways when you look at an ingredient in the market.
.For years mushrooms escaped me. I would sauté them mostly. The result was good, but always a little - mushy? (In this case, mushrooms are perfectly named!) I craved for texture, something with pizzazz. I learned that mushrooms love high heat.
My newfound appreciation for them is owed to my broiler - an under appreciated tool in the home cooks kit.
To start, I turn the broiler on. The flames stand at the ready.
I toss the mushrooms in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, and a drizzle of this balsamic vinegar which is absolutely something you should have in your pantry. It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way, and a drizzle can elevate and improve nearly any dish. (It’s even great with club soda for a little N/A spritz.)
You could add some rosemary, too - if you have it.
Then, onto a sheet tray lined with foil, and into the oven. The mushrooms should be nestled in a single layer. Avoid crowding as this shields the lowest layer from the heat, and the direct exposure to the intensity of the flame above is what you’re after. That is where, as they say, the magic happens.
After 8 to 10 minutes, your shrooms will be as brown as chestnuts, and crusty like the end bits of steak. You’re looking for caramelization at the edges, the balsamic having hastened the process.
Stack them high on a plate, and enjoy them alongside the meal you’re eating, or leave them out for the family. They make excellent drive-by snacking. Or mound them atop a bit of toast slathered with ricotta, dressing the whole affair in a hefty drizzle of olive oil.
This is good eating.
Next up, my current favorite side dish:
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