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What Julia Taught Me

Julia Child's cooking show, <em>The French Chef, </em>became a phenomenon and helped popularize French cuisine.
Julia Child's cooking show, The French Chef, became a phenomenon and helped popularize French cuisine.

While surfing through our thousands of choices on cable, I stumbled across the original episodes of "The French Chef" with Julia Child. I immediately started watching those seminal shows, and immediately started learning things I didn't know. And I hoped Chef Jerry Pellegrino would forgive me for not possessing Julia's encyclopedic knowledge of kitchen craft. Here are some useful tips.

1. In one of her first shows, Julia dropped a bit of advice that had never occurred to me (I'm ashamed to say). If you want to brown or sear a protein in a skillet, pat it absolutely dry. Any excess moisture will turn to steam, which will give your steak and an unappealing grey cast. (Jerry, why didn't you ever tell me that?)

2. If your recipe calls for a dry white wine, the inexpensive white Burgundy called Macon will be a good choice. But an even better idea is to use white Vermouth; and as I watched episode after episode, she was as good as her word. She also showed what a good choice it is for deglazing a pan.

3. Speaking of deglazing, if you're going to do it, go all the way. Really reduce that liquid and concentrate those flavors to the nth degree.

4. If you want to poach an egg, put the egg into boiling water for about 12 seconds. This will firm up the egg white and keep it from running all over the pan. I've tried it, and it works.

5. I never knew that the French have a basic soup from which they derive many other variations. It's a simple potato, leek and onion soup, cooked in water, not broth, and finished with milk. Julia mentioned several techniques for mincing the vegetables, including blitzing them in a Cusinart. And she suggested that whatever you had in your family fridge would be perfect additions to your basic potato-leek-and onion soup.

6. I of course knew about chicken sizes: broiler, fryer, roaster, etc. But I didn't know this really only referred to their size and age. You are not obligated to broil, fry or roast any of these birds. If you want to determine the age of a chicken (and we're talking a whole bird here), examine the tip of the breast bone, just above the little cavity in front. The older the bird, the stiffer and bonier the tip of the breast bone. A young bird's is quite flexible and non-boney.

7. Here's a fine little tip that I should have known about. Turmeric is a lovely spice, but it stains everything it comes in contact with. So Julia suggested keeping a big old orange spoon on hand when you are going to be working with that potently colorful spice.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.