By BOB ZIMORINO
With Louie screaming at me the whole way, I started cooking the meals on the tickets.
I knew how a cooking line worked. My dishes didn’t look nearly as good as his, but I was moving food out and starting to catch up.
And then it got busy… and then even busier yet…
Fortunately, Saturday meant no lunch service. I met Louie at the restaurant at ten in the morning and he spent the next four hours teaching me the sauté menu in the hopes that Saturday would be better than Friday was, at least in the quality of the food. In theory, it could work, provided that we don’t have a New Year’s Eve type of rush.
Hmmm… Saturday in Phoenix in the winter… a full compliment of snow birds populating the city… their families (or refugees from the north) in town for the holidays, taking advantage of the Phoenix weather in the dead of winter. This was going to really suck. Regardless, it would be better than the alternative, which would mean going in totally unprepared.
So for those of you that have been following this story from its inception, here is the payoff. These are the rules of sauté as taught to me by Big Louie. If you follow them you can open the door to literally thousands of new dishes that are easy to make, complex in flavors, and sure to be hits. I will give the rules and tell you how they applied to the restaurant.
Mise en place. Yes, the words are French, but the exercise is universal. Literally, it means “put in place”. It is the gathering of all of the ingredients needed to prepare whatever dish you are making, putting them in a logical order for use, so that when the time comes that you need that particular item, it is at hand and ready to use.
This goes beyond sauté. It is the same for baking, broiling, roasting, frying, and salad and sandwich prep. It is especially important in a sauté kitchen, because when it is slamming busy, the last thing you want to do is have to leave your position to go get something. Sauté cooking is fast and furious. Leaving a sauté in mid-cooking will guarantee the dish will fail.
Veggies are chopped in similar sizes, but kept separately in sour cream tubs. They are perfect for a restaurant because the lids can be used to keep things fresh. Reuse your plastic containers whenever possible. With the right lid, they will help keep things fresh. Mark the containers and date them because you can’t see into most of the containers.
There were separate tubs for green peppers, onions, garlic, fresh parsley, tomatoes, mushrooms, chopped clams in clam juice, fresh clams in the shell, lightly sautéed bulk (not linked) Italian sausage, sautéed pancetta, peeled and deveined shrimp, scallops rinsed and soaking in milk, eggs scrambled with cream and parmesan cheese (carbonara sauce), alfredo, and crushed tomatoes in their juices (for sauces).
Meats are lightly pounded to give them a similar thickness and size. Scalloping means to cut meat into thin, boneless slices. Whenever you see the Italian word Scallopini you can expect whatever meat they refer to be pounded thin and boneless. This makes it so when you sauté, your meats cook evenly and the finished product is uniform in texture and flavor and affords you the luxury of portion control.
We would cut a six-ounce chicken breast into five pieces, lay them out on a rectangular piece of plastic wrap, and them pound them into scallops of chicken. We would then wrap and stack them. I would do between 100 and 150 of these packages per night, depending on the night, and how busy it was projected to be. I would also do 20 – 30 veal portions, and 24 beef portions.
Blended oils and butter are essential to sauté. Olive oil has a lower smoke point than canola or other vegetable oils. Blending 60/40 veggie/olive allows you the flavor of olive oil and the ability to cook with it at a higher temperature. Take an empty, clear glass white wine bottle, fill it 60% with vegetable oil and 40% with olive oil. It will have the same shelf life as regular oil so just put it in your cupboard for the next use.
We used clarified butter, which is butter that is heated slowly to separate the cream and water from the oil. We would heat the butter on a simmer setting until it foamed. Remove the foam with a spoon, turn off the heat and let the butter sit for a few minutes. The water will be mostly evaporated and the solids (cream), which weigh more than the oil, will have sunk to the bottom of the pan. Slowly and carefully pour off the oil until you start to see the solids, but don’t add them back into the oil.
Some strain it through cheesecloth, but if you are careful, you can recapture almost all of the oil without the solids. Any left over clarified or drawn butter, as it is commonly called, can be covered and refrigerated. This gives you the flavor of butter but without the cream, it has a higher smoke point.
Next: The Art Of Sauté Part 2 (We are just getting started)
Bob Zimorino is a full-time real estate agent with Lambros/ERA Real Estate, a retired Certified Executive Chef, a musician with the popular local band Mudfoot and the Dirty Soles, a dad, and a grandpa. He shares the experiences from his life that helped shape his careers and hobbies. His weekly “Taste It” blog is his take on the evolution of food in his lifetime.