The secret of cooking until "done"
This is a real chef's skill: being able to look at a fish fillet cooking and say, "Stop – that's enough, it's cooked". I always admire this ability to see at a glance if something is done. It is what sets the professionals apart from us mere amateurs.
And it's true that how fish is cooked is important. If it is underdone, it can be sticky and tasteless, overdone and it dries out and becomes rubbery.
Here we have a problem: the chef's eye (so they say) is only acquired after many years of experience, so it's unlikely that you or I will ever have it! So are our eyes only good for shedding a regretful tear? No – we can dry our eyes and let technology come to the rescue: for food to be cooked just right is simply a matter of temperature. In other words, fish will be perfectly cooked when the temperature in the centre of the fillet reaches 65-70°C (149-158°F).
Here's the trick: first cook the fish on one side (salted and peppered beforehand). When it looks sufficiently fried or grilled, turn it over and stick an electronic thermometer
into the centre.
Leave to rest
As soon as the temperature shown reaches 65°C (149°F), remove the fish from the heat, transfer onto a hot plate
and cover with aluminium foil
. If you leave the thermometer in, you will see that even away from the heat source, the temperature will continue to rise by a few more degrees until it reaches around 70°C (158°F), so the fish will still be cooking.
This resting time also allows the juices which have flowed towards the outside to be reabsorbed into the flesh, giving you the tenderest and tastiest fish ever!
You may well be surprised at just how little time it takes to reach this temperature. You will no doubt find that you tended to overcook fish before.
- Certain electronic thermometers are fitted with an alarm which beeps at the chosen temperature, which is very useful.
- You will no doubt see other temperatures, less than 65°C, stated elsewhere. This is a matter of taste.
What about meat?
Chefs – yes, them again – use touch to judge how cooked red meat is.
This is not easy for the amateur but, fortunately for us, help is at hand! You can use the same method for red meat, but this time the temperature to watch for depends on how well done you like it:
52°C (126°F) = very rare (“bleu” = “blue” in French)
60°C (140°F) = rare
65°C (149°F) = medium
70°C (158°F) = well done
But these temperatures are very approximate, as for red meat, you need to establish your own scale, according to your own taste.
Back to top of page
The 3 essential knives
You must have heard a chef or cook say: "There’s no good cooking without good ingredients". This is very true, of course, but for any amateur or beginner it is equipment that really counts to start with. What I mean is that you should not skimp on [Read more...]
Using stretch food film effectively
Maybe you use food film in your own kitchen. You know, the very thin, clear plastic stuff that you can stretch, often used to cover food and protect it from the air. It’s become so widely used that it’s now an essential item for pros. They even [Read more...]
The mock CAP baker's certificate exam
The next instalment in my life as an apprentice baker at the French INBP professional school. I’m now halfway through training and it’s still as exciting as ever, and exhausting – but maybe I’m just getting old, or both… Anyway, a few days [Read more...]
Rosemary in recipes
Rosemary, as I’m sure you know, is a culinary herb:
It is one of the famous French "herbes de Provence", and is very effective in bringing a real taste of the Mediterranean to any dish.
The classic way to use it in a recipe is to add a [Read more...]
The Holy Grail of French bakers
While browsing through the recipes on this site, you may have noticed that while I adore cooking (everything, in fact, to do with eating and drinking), I am particularly drawn to bakery: bread, viennoiseries and all that goes with them – it’s a [Read more...]
Is it really necessary to cream egg yolks?
Let’s try and answer a question that crops up in cookery and patisserie, even if it verges on the existential: do the egg yolks in a custard recipe really need to be beaten until pale, or not?
You might already have noticed in many recipes [Read more...]
Egg yolks and caster sugar
We often come across recipes where we need to mix egg yolks with caster sugar. This would appear to be a very ordinary and simple thing to do but, be warned, these two ingredients can behave oddly together.
Let’s take confectioner's custard [Read more...]
The golden-brown finish on puff pastry
Let's take a look at the tricky matter of producing puff pastry with an attractive, golden-brown finish. French pastry chefs call this "dorure" (literally, "gilding").
Behind this quirky term there lurks a real problem (and the solution): when [Read more...]