Cooking Techniques

Evo Executive Chef Adam Zwerling
There are over a dozen cooking techniques that bring a wealth of flavors to the culinary world. Here is a brief explanation of each and how you can better achieve the tastes you desire through the versatile Evo flattop cooking platform.

Sear

Searing is a process where you use high heat to quickly brown the food, creating a crispy texture and desirable flavors through caramelization. The contrast in taste and texture between the crust and interior makes the food more interesting to the palate. And the appearance of the food is improved with a browning sear.

The advantage of an Evo flattop over an open-flame grated appliance is you get to sear the entire surface of the food thus producing more flavorful, moist, and nutritionally-sound product. Plus you don't end up charring your food, which can turn flavor into ashes. You would start by heating the grill surface on medium-high – from point of ignition, only about 4-5 minutes on the Evo plancha. What you do next depends on what you are cooking, and how much of it. For meats like steak and chicken, I'd leave the grill on medium-high until I'm done searing depending on the volume of food being cooked (basically more heat for more food). For fish, you would generally sear for less time because the protein is much more delicate than beef, chicken, etc. I'd adjust the time of searing depending on the thickness and overall size of the filet. After searing, adjust the temperature down and cover to finish cooking. Always remember visual cues should help you adjust the temperature to achieve the proper browning of the food’s outer surface.

Saute

Sauteing is a method of cooking using a small amount of fat in a shallow pan over relatively high heat. This is done for a short period of time to preserve the food's color, moisture and flavor. Olive oil and clarified butter are commonly used because they will not start to burn at lower temperatures like regular butter. To saute best, it is important to ensure the pan is very hot, and that the food is not crowded into the pan.

Most important, start off by heating the center burner on high. This will allow for a sufficient amount of heat to be conducted to the saute pan. In addition, Evo's large cooking surface allows for the correct size pan to be utilized to fulfill any size meal. Evo's flattop will efficiently and evenly conduct heat to every inch of the pan for a more consistent sauteing. It may be easier to use canola, soy or grape seed oil, since clarified butter is not generally found in grocery stores. These oils have high smoking points and contain no solid particulates to burn. After the initial pan sauté, you can rest the product and keep it warm on a roasting rack on the Evo cook surface while creating a sauce from fond in the pan.

Grill

Grilling is done over a source of direct, dry heat. The process, known as the Maillard reaction, allows the carbonyl group of the sugars to interact with the amino group, resulting in desireable flavor compounds. Another popular aspect of grilling is the use of marinades, rubs, and seasonings to enhance the taste or create an ethnic flavor.

The key to well grilled food is maintaining the desired temperature, otherwise you can lose moisture and nutrients – and flavor. I prefer using the Evo to grill because you can control the heat. Open flame grills create unpredictable temperatures; the fire flares up and down and reacts to the food product being cooked. These temperature fluctuations cause the food product to repeatedly contract like a muscle. As a result this causes the grilled product to pump out its juices which contains flavor and nutrients. Open flames have a tendency to exceed normal grilling temperatures and burn the food. Evo's Professional and Affinity models create temperature zones to grill several results (rare to well done) at the same time. Feeling in control with Evo, one can go back to enjoying better cuts of meat and fish with the confidence of a professional chef.

Evo's solid cook surface keeps the spices and marinades with the foods - you don't lose them below any grates to be burned along with yesterday's droppings. Don’t let your marinades become fuels to char your foods.

Smoke

Smoking is the process of cooking and flavoring food by exposing it to the smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials - most notably wood. In Europe, alderwood, oak and beech are traditional smoking woods. In North America, hickory, mesquite, oak, pecan, alder, maple, and even fruit-tree woods (apple, cherry and plum) are commonly used for smoking. Other fuels besides wood can also be employed, sometimes with the addition of flavoring ingredients.

Hot smoking, a process that takes several hours, can be used to fully cook meats or fish; barbecue is a form of hot smoking. Generally, hot-smoking involves holding the food directly above the fire, or in an enclosure that is heated by the fire, where the cooking temperature is usually between 165–200°F. The temperatures reached can kill microbes throughout the food.

Cellulose found in hardwoods are basically aggregate sugar molecules. When these molecules are cooked, they effectively caramelize, producing sweet, flowery, and fruity aromas. Other molecular components found in hardwood also produce a number of distinctive aromatic elements when cooked, including smoky, spicy, and pungent compounds. Different species of trees have different cellulose characteristics, thereby imparting different distinct flavors to smoked foods.

Let me dispel one of the biggest misconceptions about the Evo flattop - yes, you can smoke with it. There are several ways to smoke foods on an Evo. For example, lay out a nice salmon filet on a cedar plank and place the wood directly on the cook surface. No worries of your fish catching fire as the cedar plank is not subjected to open flames. Also, the flattop technique gives us the rich flavors of wood smoke without the flames that can upset the temperature balance. You can also use small tins of wood chips or simply place wood pieces right on the cook surface - it won't harm the grill.

In addition, wood planks or chips need not be wet prior to smoking as the wood does not need protection from the fire. Another important factor is the temperature at which the wood burns. High-temperature fires char the flavor molecules, which in turn break down further into unpleasant, bitter compounds. The optimal conditions for smoke flavor are low, smoldering temperatures.

Some softwoods, especially pines and firs, hold significant quantities of resin which can produce a harsh-tasting soot when burned so avoid these woods when smoking.

Even better than a grated grill system, you can compartmentalize your smoking (e.g. using the 3 sizes of Evo cooking covers) while utilizing the rest of the flattop to cook other foods.

Roast

Roasting is another cooking method that utilizes dry heat, and usually causes carmelization of the surface of the food, which is considered a flavor enhancement. Roasting is generally done at a medium heat. Meats and most root and bulb vegetables can be roasted.

Roasting until the 20th century originally involved turning the meat or bird on a spit over an open flame, basically to apply the heat to a side of the food while hopefully keeping the outside surface from burning thru constant rotation. That process faded as heat controlled ovens became available.

Roasting is a slow cooking method which is inconsistent and hard to maintain on an open flame grill. A great way to roast on an Evo is to use a simple bakers rack and either an Evo cooking cover or the Evo hood. Place the rack on the cook surface - it won't hurt it - and lay your meat on top. You can sear it first or not - your choice. The slight elevation lets the roast cook without burning or overcooking the underside. The cover will create an oven effect. You should rotate the roast during the cooking process as needed. The benefit of roasting on an Evo flattop is that juices do not cause fire flare ups that can actually char your meat - if not outright catch it on fire – and the consistent temperature creates a more desirable and flavorful roast.

Bake

Baking is the technique of cooking food in an oven by dry heat applied evenly throughout. The dry heat of baking changes the structures of starches in the food and causes its outer surfaces to brown, giving it an attractive appearance and taste, while partially sealing in the food's moisture. The browning is caused by caramelization of sugars and the Maillard reaction. Moisture is never really entirely sealed in; an item being baked will become drier over time, however this is an advantage in situations where crispy, crunchy attributes are the desired outcome. The most common baked item is bread, with other variations in cakes and cookies.

You've probably never considered using a traditional outdoor grill to bake, but with an Evo Flattop now you can. I've made cupcakes while camping, and cookies at a picnic. Utilizing the hood and consistent cooking temperatures, my Evo turns into an oven. As with roasting, the baking product must be elevated from the heat conducting surface. To create this elevation and to provide adequate hot air circulation, I put my baking pans on top of a baker's rack and then cover with either the Evo cooking covers or Evo hood. Evo allows you to be even more creative outdoors!

Toast

Toast is bread that has been browned by exposure to dry heat, and the resulting reaction makes it more tasty. Toasting carmelizes the natural starches to create a crispy, sweet texture and flavor. Besides warming the bread, toasting also makes it firmer, so that it holds toppings more securely.

You can certainly toast the hotdog buns and hoagie rolls but spur your imagination with other possibilities and expand your menu. A simple baguette can create numerous hors d'oeuvres using a variety of toppings from garlic butter to gorgonzola cheese, pimentos to tomato fresca. Using my Evo I can toast English muffins, bagels, and the delicious crostini – or handle french toast for the whole family at the same time. Don't forget the wildly popular grilled sandwiches, from basic grilled cheese and reubens to the extravagant Monte Cristo. Most toasting can be done just under the Medium setting.

Stir Fry

Stir frying is a common oriental cooking technique used because of its fast cooking speed. Traditionally done in a round-bottom iron pan called a wok, the food is stirred and tossed very quickly using wooden or metal cooking utensils. Stir fry starts with a small amount of cooking oil, followed with a combination of aromatics such as ginger and garlic. At the first moment these ingredients release their aroma, meats or seafood are then added and tossed. Once the meat is seared, vegetables are added, and finally rice and or noodles are incorporated into the mix. To finish the dish, a variety of sauces or liquid ingredients such as soy, vinegar, wine, etc. are added to expand the flavor profile and marry all of the ingredients.

This style was relegated to the indoors - until Evo arrived. The large cooking surface provides the volume, and the efficient burner system produces the required very high temperatures, which allows stir frying to now be done outdoors. Use your two Evo spatulas to toss and stir the foods. The grill may then be covered for a moment (I prefer smaller lids here) so the liquid ingredients can warm up the latest additions as it steams off. In some dishes, different components may be stir fried separately on the cook surface before being combined in the final dish. Also, if your guest desires the taste of the stir fried vegetables and meats to remain distinct, it is easier to keep the ingredients separated on Evo’s convex cook top.

Boil / Simmer

In the culinary world, boiling is cooking food in boiling water or other water based liquids such as beef or chicken stock. Creating a more pleasing texture is the main advantage of boiling tougher, cheaper cuts of meats, which in turn makes the food more easily digestible.

Simmering is gentle boiling, which may produce basic stocks from beef, pork, poultry and occasionally fish. Classic recipes incorporate the use of simmering milk to further a meat’s luscious texture and promote a more refined flavor.

Boiling is great for certain foods like pasta / rice and shellfish. I like the capability of my Evo to boil water while simultaneously preparing other parts of the meal. The portability also allows me to take my Evo to the beach for a traditional lobster or crab boil.

On the other hand, I try to avoid the main disadvantage to boiling, which is the loss of soluble vitamins in the water. I prefer to steam or grill my vegetables rather than boil them, which can easily be done on an Evo. I also prepare dishes where the simmered stock is part of the meal, such as stews. Simmering is also a well used technique, and I frequently prepare sauces in a pan while cooking the main dishes – all on the cook top. Don't forget the Evo is a presentation platform and a one-pot meal may be left on the cook surface to maintain its warmth during the event. 

 

Steam

Steaming is a preferred cooking method for health conscious individuals because no cooking oil is needed, thus resulting in a lower fat content. Steaming also results in a more nutritious food because fewer nutrients are destroyed or leached away. Boiled or ultra-heated liquids create steam which then carries the heat and moisture to the food, thus cooking it.

Depending on the amount of food you are preparing, you can steam on the entire cook surface using the Evo hood, or compartmentalize your cooking with smaller steaming lids. This technique can also be used to speed up the cooking process. I love this cooking versatility, because you just can't steam on a grated grill outdoors, and indoors it relieves the use of extra pans and lids. 

Braise

Braising is cooking with "moist heat", typically in a covered pot with a small amount of water. Braising relies on heat, time, and moisture to successfully break down tough connective tissue in meats. Coq au Vin is a classic braised dish using red wine to marinate and cook the chicken. Familiar braised dishes include pot roast, chicken cacciatore, goulash and braised swordfish.

A successful braise intermingles the flavors of the foods being cooked and the cooking liquid. Also the dissolved gelatins from the meat enrich and add body to the liquid.

Most braises follow the same basic steps, all of which can be done on the Evo flattop. The meat or poultry is first browned directly on the cook surface with aromatic vegetables. Once browned, transfer to a braising pot. A cooking liquid that often includes an acidic element such as tomatoes or wine is then added to the pot, which is covered. The dish cooks over the center burner on a relatively low heat setting until the meat is fork tender. Once again, Evo lets you cook outdoors a meal once confined to the kitchen.

Poach

Poaching is the process of gently simmering food in liquid, generally water, stock or wine. In poaching the cooking liquid maintains a constant temperature of approximately 140 to 170 °F depending on the food being poached. It is important to get your liquid up to poaching temperature and hold it there for several minutes before introducing your ingredients.

The key to good poaching is you do not want any agitation of the liquid (e.g. no bubbles). There are classical combinations for poaching: eggs in water, fish in white wine, poultry in stock, fruit in red wine, duck in fat (confit). Evo's temperature range and control makes the cooktop suitable to handle fragile food which might easily fall apart or dry out. Don’t be afraid to attempt this delicate technique.

Fry

Frying is the cooking of food in oil or fat. Chemically, oils and fats are the same, differing only in melting point. Through frying, one can sear and even carmelize the surface of foods. The food is cooked much more quickly and has a special crispness and texture. The frying of foods maintains moisture, flavor and ultimately nutrients.

Evo's high temperature points can handle frying and is safer than trying this on open flame grills and side burners as the oils are kept separate from the unsafe igniting effect of fire. Using the center burner on a medium to high heat, check oil temperature until it reaches 375 to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (this temperature is dependent on the type of food you are frying). Make sure all ingredients and utensils are dry, as excessive moisture will cause the oil to boil over and in extreme cases combust.

Special note: always make sure a fire extinguisher is on hand before frying any foods.

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