Baking Paper aka Frying Paper

If you have a frying pan that is not quite as non-stick as you’d like it to be, pop a bit of baking paper in there before you start cooking. Voila! It’s now one hundred per cent non-stick.

I made chicken teriyaki the other night using this tip. It calls for starting the chicken skin down in a cold pan and cooking it until golden. Usually at least some chicken skin ends up getting stuck to the pan, but this time there was none!

Curry With Properly Seared Beef

I made Japanese beef curry tonight using Kenji’s tip from his recipe for American stew. Rather than dicing the beef then trying to sear it — something that hardly ever works — you cut it into a couple of steak-sized chunks and sear those. It’s much easier to avoid the dreaded problem of the beef expelling massive amounts of water and basically steaming rather than searing.

Also, rather than boiling the meat and veggies for 20 minutes, as directed on the roux pack — I just used our usual S&B Torokeru curry — I simmered them for a couple of hours on a very low flame to give the beef time to become tender. The result was one of the best packet-based curries we’ve had in quite a while.

Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s pie is not a tricky dish, but it still rewards a bit of care. I tried this recipe from Serious Eats last night and it was great. It features a couple of my favourite Serious Eats recipe tricks: the use of gelatine to thicken a sauce and the addition of umami bombs—in this case Worcestershire sauce and Marmite, though I used Vegemite instead. Too bad they couldn’t work the reverse sear in there somehow too!

I ended up skipping the cream and parmesan in the potatoes. After tasting them while mashing I felt like I’d be running into the law of diminishing returns by adding more dairy. They already tasted great; how much extra flavour would I really be getting from all the extra calories and saturated fat on top of the butter already there?

Roast Pork Shoulder

I made Nagi Maehashi’s recipe for roast pork the other night. It was pretty successful. The meat was tender and, most importantly, the skin was exactly as salty and crispy as I had hoped it would be. I’ve only tried this kind of roast a couple of times before and both times were abject failures. The meat turned out okay, but the skin has hard and rubbery. Hoping to avoid that, I followed the recipe and timing as closely as I could. One variation was skipping the fennel seeds. I actually bought them, but when I opened the pack, the fragrance hit me so hard I decided to give them a miss and stuck with salt, pepper and oil. Maybe next time.

Nagi recommends getting a flat square chunk of meat, which I couldn’t find in any of the butchers I went to. I had to make do with a vacuum-packed, rolled and tied roast from the supermarket, which she pretty much says to avoid. Unrolled and freed from its string it still looked more like a football cut in half than a lasagna, which I think is probably the shape to go for. Even so, it turned out pretty good, although I should have done more to flatten it out before starting.

Something I’ll pay more attention to next time is monitoring the final blast of heat at the end of the roast. The recipe advises to cover bits of skin that get done first with pieces of foil to stop them them from burning, holding them in place with toothpicks that have been soaked in water. Stupidly, I dismissed this as being overly fussy and most likely optional. However, when I saw how quickly some parts of the skin were cooking compared to others I realised my mistake. Next time, I’ll be soaking the toothpicks well ahead of time. Unless you have a perfectly flat piece of meat you’ll want to use this technique.

The only part of the recipe that didn’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped was the gravy. With the amount of flour called for the gravy was thick and gluey, even after all the stock and pan juices were mixed in. I ended up just ladling a little of it into another pan and diluting it with a bit more stock, which ended up tasting pretty good. Considering how spot-on the rest of this recipe was, I wondered why this part was so off. I got in touch with Nagi, who told me that there’d been a recent template change, which led to an error. It should have been 35 grams rather than 65.

Aside from tasting great, this is a great example of the kind of recipe I love to see. It includes in-depth explanations of why you need to do things a certain way and copious notes on things to watch out for, but does it in a light and easy-to-read manner. Looking forward to my next attempt.

Salt & Fat's Tomato-Butter Sauce

The day ten years ago this recipe for tomato-butter sauce was posted on Salt & Fat was the day I started to cook. Until then I had prepared plenty of food and certainly thought that I had been cooking, but all I had really been doing was warming a few disparate ingredients enough to be edible and adding a bunch of salt at the end.

This, however, was the first time I had taken a few ingredients – tomatoes, an onion, salt and butter – and created something that tasted entirely different. I still remember the jolt I got from my first taste of this sweet, salty, jammy sauce. It was like alchemy.

Salt & Fat is a blog by Neven Mrgan and Jim Ray that ran from 2010 to 2014. It’s been on hiatus for a few years, but its archives are a treasure trove of ideas that massively expanded my food world. Food is food, after all, so it’s not as though any of this is going to go out of date anytime soon. A few highlights off the top of my head are —

That last one is for boiled potatoes, and is a particular favourite. Nothing could be simpler, but few things are as tasty in their simplicity. I no longer make any of these exactly as described, but I use the techniques described every single day.