Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Substitutions when cooking from Cook's Illustrated

      I discovered these tips many months ago on the Cook's Illustrated website and saved them because they contained things I didn't know.  (FYI: I've learned much from their free email newsletter if you're interested in subscribing.)  
      I have often wondered what to do when a recipe called for wine and I didn't have any.  (I usually leave it out.)  And I could never figure out why I should use unsalted butter instead of salted.  (I rarely buy unsalted.)  If you, too, have been curious about those things you may find these tips interesting and helpful, as I did.  I'm afraid I'm really not into cooking enough to care too much about some of these things, but I still find it interesting to understand the rationale behind using them.

        "Let’s talk about wine – whether red or white, it’s by far the most called for liquor in our recipes. We use it in many pan sauces, braising and stew liquids, soups, and sometimes gravy. The role of wine in these applications is to brighten and add bracing acidity to a dish. As the wines cook down, the complexity of its flavors are drawn out.
       But in any case where wine is part of the equation (as in the entire sauce isn’t built on wine only) we have a great substitution. For every half-cup of wine that you are substituting, use can use ½ cup broth plus 1 teaspoon of either lemon juice, or wine vinegar.
         There are three things that will make this substitution work. One is that you use the appropriate broth for the recipe – so if your soup or risotto is calling for chicken broth already, use more of that. Likewise, use the appropriate vinegar – red wine vinegar for red wine, and white wine vinegar for white wine. But most importantly, to mimic the acidity of the wine, you’ll want to add the vinegar to the dish just before serving. If added along with the broth, the brightness of the vinegar will be muted too much."

     "Want more good news (who doesn’t these days?) When a recipe calls for a tablespoon or so of various liquour – say sherry, port, madiera, it’s more than likely that the dish will be fine without it. Instead of these fortified wines (which are sweeter than regular wine), you may find that a pinch of sugar or splash of vinegar added along with your final seasonings may be all the dish needs."

      "Ok, I’ll go ahead and let you know that I keep both kinds in my house. The salted butter I spread on my toast (or homemade waffles – yum.) But I, and the test kitchen use unsalted butter for everything else. There are a few reasons for this.

       The amount of salt contained in a stick of butter is not regulated. So depending on the brand, the salt content can make up between 1.25 to 1.75% of the total weight. That’s quite a range, and since we in the test kitchen love consistency with all of our hearts, it’s better to start with unsalted butter and then give a specific amount of salt to use.
      Salted butter also contains more water than unsalted butter, and while this might not make a difference when slathering a compound butter on your steaks, it can literally change the texture in baked good. We found that brownies and drop biscuits made with salted butter were pastier than those made with unsalted butter. I don’t want pasty biscuits, do you?
      So, if all you have in your fridge is salted butter and you’re dying to make that batch of sugar cookies or crescent rolls, just know that they may come out a little heavy, and possibly a bit salty."

        "Of course we aren’t going to tell you to ignore your health concerns, but know that swapping dairy products can have a huge impact on the resulting recipe. And the reason all comes down to the beautiful, misunderstood milk-fat. Fat gives custards richness, fat makes heavy cream whip to puffy perfection, and fat also prevents a “cream” sauce from breaking as it boils away. That’s why the pan sauce made with milk will look split and greasy, while the one made with cream or even half and half will look, and feel silky smooth.
        So here’s what I suggest – if you want to reduce the amount of fat found in a recipe, or you just happen to be out of the dairy in question, only substitute similar ingredients (close in fat content) for each other. Here’s a guideline:
       Many cake recipes call for milk, and we’ve found that 2% or 1% milk will work just about as well as whole milk. Skim milk can be used, but know that the resulting cake will be slightly tougher and/or dry.
        By and large we’ve had good luck when making custards and puddings with half and half instead of heavy cream. In fact, we often find the lighter result more enjoyable. Since custards don’t come to a full rolling boil, there is no need to worry about the mixture splitting.
Be wary of using lower fat milks in custards. As they set up, the texture can be slippery and bouncy.
      Here’s where it’s easy to make a mistake. You want a “fill-in-the-blank” casserole that doesn’t contain all of that fat! I understand, but don’t pour in the half and half instead of the heavy cream. Here’s why -
       Half and half is homogenized to prevent the milk fats from rising to the top of the carton. While this process is helpful to prevent your morning coffee from receiving an unfortunate glob of fat, it’s actually harmful to the ability of dairy proteins (casein) to coat the fat – which is necessary to prevent splitting as the sauce bubbles away.
       Heavy cream is not homogenized, so if you wish to cut back on the fat in a casserole, just use ¼ cup heavy cream mixed with ¾ cup whole milk (that’s for every cup of half and half used in the recipe.) This will give you a stable, and still pleasantly rich filling."

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