Steaming (and searing, etc.) it up in the kitchen

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This is the final installment of a five-part series focused on tips for college students and others cooking for themselves for the first time.

Hopefully by now, you are feeling very comfortable in the kitchen and turning out some better than average meals. If some dinners haven't been exactly 5-star quality, don't worry. My philosophy is that since we eat dinner 365 days a year, if one meal doesn't turn out quite right, I can just try again tomorrow. Just keep trying.

Today's topic: Stovetop cooking and frankly, you will use these methods most often. We w ill discuss sautéing, searing, stir-frying, pan frying and deep-frying, steaming, cooking en papillote, poaching and simmering.

When you sauté food, you cook it rapidly in a little fat over relatively high heat. The term sauté comes from the French verb sauter, or 'to jump,' and refers to the way foods sizzle and jump in a hot pan. You can sauté most any food.

Searing also cooks food quickly in a small amount of oil over direct heat. It may be the first step when roasting, braising or stewing foods, or it can be a method for cooking foods that are eaten rare, such as tuna. Seared foods are not cooked completely.

When stir frying foods are customarily cut into small pieces, usually strips, dice or shreds, and cooked rapidly in a little oil. They are added to the pan in sequence; those requiring the longest cooking times are added first, those that cook more quickly at the last. The sauce for a stir-fry, like that of a sauté, is made in the pan to capture the dish's entire flavor.

Pan-fried foods are almost always dusted with flour, coated with batter or breaded. Food is fried in enough oil to come halfway or two-thirds up its side and is often cooked over less intense heat than a sauté. The food is cooked more by the oil's heat than by direct contact with the pan. The hot oil seals the coated surface and locks in the natural juices. Because no juices are released and a larger amount of oil is used, accompanying sauces are made separately. The Five:30 recipe today is cooked using the pan-frying method.

I am sure you are very familiar with deep fried foods. Significantly more fat is used than for either sautéing or pan-frying. The food is almost always coated with a breading or a batter, such as tempura, and that coating acts as a barrier between the fat and the food and adds to the flavor and texture. To cook rapidly and evenly, foods should be cut into a uniform size and shape.

Electric or gas deep fryers with baskets are typically used for deep frying, although it is feasible to deep fry using a large pot. The sides should be high enough to prevent fat from foaming over or splashing, and wide enough to add and remove foods easily.

Steaming, cooking foods en papillote, shallow and deep poaching, and simmering all rely on liquid and or water vapor as the cooking medium. Monitoring cooking temperatures and times vigilantly and determining doneness accurately are key to a mastery of these moist heat methods.

Steam circulating around the food provides an even, moist environment. Steaming is an efficient and highly effective way to prepare naturally tender fish and poultry. Properly steamed foods are plump, moist and tender and generally do not lose much of their original volume. They often have more intrinsic flavor than foods cooked by other methods because the cooking medium does not generally impart much of its own. And if not overcooked, colors stay true, too.

One of my favorite variations of steaming is to cook 'en papillote,' which translates literally as 'in paper.' The food is wrapped in a parchment paper packet (foil, banana leaves, corn husks, etc. are used also) and cooks in steam produced by its own juices.

Opening an entrée prepared in this method is a pleasure fest: splitting the packet releases a burst of aromatic steam and reveals a visually beautiful dish.

Shallow and deep poaching and simmering are similar methods.

In shallow poaching the food is partially submerged in the liquid. The liquid often contains an acid, like lemon juice or wine, and aromatics.

Deep poaching and simmering call for a food to be completely submerged in a liquid that is kept at a constant, moderate temperature.

The aim of these methods is to produce foods that are moist and extremely tender. The distinguishing factors between the two methods are differences in cooking temperature and appropriate types of food. Deep poaching is done at a lower temperature and is better suited for naturally tender cuts of meat, poultry or fish. Simmering occurs at slightly higher temperatures so that the tougher cuts it is paired with can become tender and moist during cooking.

Today's recipes feature fish, cooked by pan-frying and poaching. Fish cooks quickly, is healthful and relatively low in cost; it is a great food to eat often. Try inexpensive snapper, sole, cod and bass for either recipe.

Over the past five weeks we've covered a lot of information. Nothing will teach you more about cooking than just jumping in and doing it. Aim to cook at least one new dish each week. Have confidence and experiment with new foods and flavors.

Just remember tonight's dinner is just one dinner out of 365 - you can always try again tomorrow!

Bon Appetit! Discover the joy of cooking!

My Uncle's Poached Fish

Makes 4 servings

4 slices ginger, crushed

1 green onion (including top), lightly crushed

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ pounds firm white fish fillets, such as cod, halibut, or sea bass, cut ¾ inch thick


1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1/3 cup rice vinegar

3 tablespoons catsup

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons (packed) brown sugar

½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce or chili oil

2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 teaspoons water

Green onion (including top) cut into 1 ½ inch slivers

Pour 2 inches of water into a wok or pan large enough to hold the fish. Add the ginger, crushed green onion, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add the fish, cover and simmer until the fish turns opaque, 6 to 8 minutes. Lift the fish out with a slotted spoon. Drain it briefly and keep it warm.

While the fish is cooking, prepare the sauce. Place a medium saucepan over high heat until hot. Add the oil, swirling to coat the surface. Add the ginger and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the rice vinegar, catsup, soy sauce, brown sugar, and hot pepper sauce and mix well. Add the cornstarch solution and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens. Pour the sauce over the fish and garnish with green onion slivers.

Everybody's Wokking, Martin Yan, 1991

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Some suggestions for being successful as a first time apartment or house dweller and a considerate roommate:

* Matt Hundhammer, a U of Oregon junior, endorses the minimalist approach to dishes. He figures that if each person in a house has only one plate, it will never be sitting dirty in a sink.

* 'Keep to the outside perimeter when shopping - that's where you'll find the real food like meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables. Stay out of the inside aisles because that is where the expensive processed food is.' - Linda Hundhammer, Lake Oswego (Matt's mother)

* 'Some nights I find myself distressed, because although I have plenty of pantry items, I can't seem to figure out how to assemble them into a decent meal. On these nights, when I am tired and hungry, it's all too easy to pick up the phone and order a pizza or some other convenient option. When I find myself in this situation, and there's no money left to buy new groceries or order take-out, I pick up a pen and paper. I then look through my pantry and think up all of the meals I can make with my seemingly random ingredients. I can usually come up with at least 10 meals from my random pantry items. I post this list on the fridge, and the next night, when I again think that I have nothing to make for dinner, I simply consult the list to remind myself of the delicious creations at my fingertips!' - Mary Miller, Portland

* 'Ha ha, I have lots of advice that I was never able to follow very well myself, but wish that I had. There are lots of little cleaning issues that always come up. A meeting to discuss cleaning responsibilities/expectations of cleanliness is always a good thing in a shared living space. Knowing one's own limits on what is acceptable to you and others around you normally quells some of the arguments that will come up later. I have found that the better one communicates with those that you live with, the better things tend to work out. The less people are talking in a house, the more grudgy and frustrated they tend to get (at least in my experience). So just make sure that lines of communication are left open as much as possible, because those are often the only humanizing factors in a situation that tends to turn people into things and situations more than everyone involved would like.' - Brian Smith, Anchorage, Alaska

Very good advice, Brian. We didn't discuss how to be a good roommate. Some obvious tips would include:

* If it's not your's, don't use/eat/drink/wear/drive it, unless you have permission.

* Don't leave messes for someone else to clean up - there is no one else!

* Whether it needs it or not, clean your bathroom each week.

* With your roommates set a schedule for chores like dishes, garbage, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc. If a schedule is posted, it's hard to argue that you didn't think it was your night to take out the garbage.

* Roommates are probably not going to be as forgiving as your family. Be respectful of them and recognize it is their home, too. Heed Brian's advice to communicate.

* Note on your calendar what money you spend and where you spent it. This will help keep money in your pocket, rather than trickling through your fingers. Keep receipts - you just might need them to return an item.

* Save your coins - they add up. You never know when you'll be looking for a few extra dollars.



A five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less! (Salt, pepper, olive oil and water don't count.)

Pan-Fried Striped Bass with Lemon Sauce

Makes 4 servings

This fish is especially delicious with its skin left on and sautéed until brown and crispy.

For the sauce, whisk together:

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice


Freshly ground black pepper

Taste for salt and lemon juice and adjust as desired. The sauce will separate as it sits; this is not a problem.


4 pieces striped bass, skin on (4 to 6 ounces each)

With: salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Choose a heavy-bottomed pan for frying the fish. Take another, slightly smaller pan that will fit into the pan for the fish and wrap its bottom with foil. This pan will be used as a weight to hold the fish flat against the frying pan to ensure that the skin will cook and crisp. (You will see the fish contract when it goes into the hot pan, as the skin shrinks on contact with the heat.) Warm the larger pan over medium-high heat. When hot, pour in olive oil, enough to generously coat the bottom.

Add the pieces of bass, skin side down, and place the foil-wrapped pan on top of the fish. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy, about 7 minutes. Check now and then to see that the fish is indeed browning, but not over browning. Adjust the heat up or down to speed up or slow down the cooking as needed. When the skin is browned, remove the top pan and turn the fish. Cook for another minute or so, until the fish is just cooked through, but is still moist and tender inside. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon sauce together again and pour onto a warm plate. Serve the fish skin side up, on top of the sauce.

Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food, Notes, Lessons and Recipes for a Delicious Revolution, 2007