Ask Chef Rachael - April 2013

Q. So many recipes these days call for unsalted butter. Why?
A. I myself am guilty of writing recipes almost exclusively with unsalted butter, and while some people might write this way for health reasons, for me it is mostly a matter of taste. I like to be able to control the amount of salt in my recipes, not have that dictated for me. I do like salted butter for eating on bread. If you keep salted butter on hand, you can substitute it in recipes that call for unsalted, but you may need to adjust the seasoning level of other salt called for in the recipe downward to accommodate that.

Q. What is turbinado sugar?
A. This brown to golden-colored sugar should not be confused with brown sugar. It is a less refined less processed cane-based raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. It is often used to add texture and crunch to tops of baked goods.

Q. You recently mentioned making pork pot roast braised in red wine, which I thought was interesting. Can you use any liquid for braising?
A. Consider what you are cooking, but yes. I actually braised that pork shoulder in a combination of wine and beef broth. I like the acidity and especially color the wine adds, particularly to the gravy I make from the pan drippings. I’ve also recently done a similar roast with a little bit of dry Marsala. You can use any good red or white wine; just be sure to use a dry one. You can also use beer, especially with beef, and cider is good with pork. As for broth – you can use chicken or vegetable broth with just about anything, but if you have it, beef broth is nice with beef (and I like it with pork, too). Don’t forget about water – it works in any braise, and is great when you have other strong flavors in the mix, such as onions and garlic or significant amounts of herbs and spices.

Q. I’ve noticed some recipes call for carrots to be peeled, then shredded, but some just say “shredded.” Should carrots always be peeled first?
A. Technically, you don’t have to peel carrots before you use them. When I worked in Italy my chef wouldn’t allow us to peel carrots, claiming that practice was not only wasteful, but removed flavor. We scrubbed them thoroughly and removed only the very end. That said, I think most modern recipes would assume that carrots were always peeled before use. At a minimum, all produce should be washed and dried thoroughly before use; beyond that I think some judgment is needed.

For often-used selections, I would say the following preparation is assumed in most recipes, unless otherwise specified:

  • Peppers – remove and discard any white/pale-colored membrane, seeds, stem and core
  • Potatoes – peel only when noted
  • Onions – remove and discard ends and peels
  • Carrots – remove and discard ends and peels unless noted
  • Garlic – remove and discard ends and peels from each clove

Q. What is the difference between a medium and a small saucepan?
A. In general, a small saucepan will hold between ½-1 ½ quarts. A medium saucepan will hold 2-3 quarts, and a large saucepan will hold 3-4 quarts. Larger than that and you have a pot; small pots hold in the range of 5-6 quarts, and large pots hold up to 8 quarts.

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