Chef Dez: Let off some steam by cooking with the lid off

I have been a culinary instructor for more than 16 years and I love sharing tips and tricks to help people improve the results of their cooking.

One suggestion I have been preaching for years is to cook topless. Now before we get too carried away, I am not suggesting you cook half-naked.

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What I mean by “cooking topless” is to cook without a lid on your pot or pan.
Now every recipe is unique, but for the most part when you are simmering a soup, stew, or sauce, chances are you will have better results if you do it without a lid.
When you simmer anything without a lid, what do you see rising from the pot or pan? You see steam.

What is steam? This answer to this is even more obvious: evaporated water. This leads me to ask you three more straightforward, but very important questions:
1. Does water have any colour?
2. Does water have any flavour?
3. Is water a liquid?
There is water content everywhere in many ingredients. There is water in vegetables, meat, broth, juice, etc. So, even if you haven’t added any water specifically as an ingredient, you can still cook water out of your recipe by cooking it out of your ingredients. But why is this such a benefit?
Water is a colourless and flavourless liquid and three magical things will happen when you cook without a lid:
1. You will have darker colour to your recipe.
2. You will have increased flavour in your recipe.
3. Your recipe will be thicker.
Taking the some of the water component out of your dish through steam will always achieve these results. Now, sometimes you may be happy with the amount of colour, flavour, and thickness in a recipe before simmering.

If that’s the case, then cook with the lid on.
This whole discussion brings me to one more tip I want to share with you. If water is listed as an ingredient in a recipe, I want you to always question it. Based on obvious findings above, we have determined already that water has no flavour or colour.

So, why would you add it? When water is listed in an ingredient list, in small quantities (less than two cups), I want you to think to yourself: “Do I have anything other liquid in my fridge or pantry that would complement the recipe and has more colour and flavour than water?”

Perhaps some wine, juice, beer or broth? The results will always be more colourful and flavourful.
Now, I am not suggesting to always substitute water with something else, I just want to make you aware of this instead of following a recipe by the seat of your pants. You will be a better cook if you know when and how to improvise. When water is listed, just question it, that’s all. If there is a more appropriate substitute in your kitchen, you’ll figure it out.
For example, all recipes that use cornstarch will state to dissolve it in water. I will use anything but water in these instances. Even though it just may be a few tablespoons, why would I use it when I could add something better? It’s just using some common sense, and the more you do these substitutions, the better you will get at it.
Chef Dez is a chef, writer and host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com

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