Layer the FlavorsCelebrity chef and Top Chef contestant Sam Talbot gives us the recipe for one of his favorite summer dishes and shares his best cooking tricks.
1. How To Chop An Onion Without Tears
"The key to chopping onions-whether it's a red onion, a white onion, a shallot, or even garlic-is to set a glass of water out in front of the onions. I don't know the science behind it per se, but if you're cutting the ripest or teariest onion known to mankind, and you have a glass of water, there will be no more tears. It's like an Ozzy Osbourne song."
2. Use Coconut Oil to Make Your Dishes Healthier
"Coconut is one of the miracle fruits that we have been blessed with. For example, coconut milk is a great alternative to a dairy product or any sort of fat that you would use. There is coconut vinegar, which helps raise your metabolism and alkalizes your blood. There is coconut meat and dried coconut. I even use it as deodorant. To make a peppermint-based deodorant, add a touch of essential oil to coconut oil and mix it with some baking soda. It is very hippie, but it is hippie-chic, if you will. My mother was one of the vice presidents of Estée Lauder for a long, long time so I grew up in a household where we had Sports Illustrated and WWD."
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3. Eat More Vegetables
"I tell people all the time, 'You are what you eat.' You see it all over in different skin stories about vegetables that promote wellness and beauty. And if you are eating them, you get the same benefits. So I scramble my eggs with coconut oil, I do everything with it. It's really wonderful for you. It has heart-healthy antioxidants and good fats, and it lowers your cholesterol."
4. How to Peel Garlic Faster
"Take the back of your knife in the base of your hand, and smash the keel with your palm. Use a little bit of elbow grease so that the skin peels off after one hit. [You will need to repeat this on the whole clove to crack it]. Then you turn it to the side and cut off the wooden tip. Now you have your peeled clove of garlic. Everything has essential oils to it-lime, lemon, lemongrass, celery, coriander seeds-so popping garlic like that and then cooking it slowly in oil, releases it. This is how you really begin to elevate when you are cooking-by letting those essential oils basically do the work for you."
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5. Let Your Pan Get Warm Before Cooking
"Put the pan on first, and let it get a little bit warm. Whenever you are cooking anything, you never want to start in a cold pan, period. When you add something to a pan, you want it to get that initial caramelization of the sugar and get that first sear to lock in all the flavors and essential juices. If you just put something in a cold pan, it just sits there. So if you are looking for a nice roasted vegetable or sautéed scallop, start with a warm pan."
6. Tempt Your Senses with Aromatics
"The whole time you want to keep the burner on medium low heat while stirring it. You want to make sure it's cooking evenly and that the flavors and aromatics can bloom naturally, nice and slow. Also, you don't want to char anything. The order in which you put the ingredients in doesn't necessarily matter if you are talking about aromatics (like ginger, onion, and lemongrass). They are called aromatics because they liven up the senses. Aromatics can do wonderful things to the taste buds-by the time you are done cooking your taste buds are amped up."
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7. Layer the Flavors
"Get everything nice and sautéed and add jalapeños. One ingredient can change the whole thing, because jalapeños have a completely different smell. To me, that's what cooking is about. It's layering flavor, and you keep layering and layering and elevating it, and all of a sudden you have this beautiful dish. When I was younger, I would just go crazy and add everything to the pan. Then I got a bit older and more refined, and I honed my craft. New cooks should just take it slow, respect the ingredient and let them be themselves-give them the integrity they deserve."
8. Use Fresh Lemons
"This is my favorite part of the evening, it's when we make a dance with herbs and lemon. I'm obsessed with lemon. It wakes the dishes up. One of my favorite morning dishes to make is farm fresh fried eggs in coconut oil with lemon zest shavings on top. It just soars to the sky-lemon takes it to the next level. For a seafood guy like me who cooks at the beach, lemon is my best friend. Fresh citrus, lime, or lemon can make the mildest fish or the sweetest scallops come alive. Just like you need salt and pepper when you cook, you have to have citrus."
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9. Add Herbs
"Right before you serve this, take all of your herbs and throw them in. So you are going to hit it really hard with some fresh basil, cilantro, and lemon zest. You can't overdue this in my opinion. Whenever you read a beautiful description at a restaurant, get so excited, and then find out the dish has no flavor, it's probably missing one or both of two things: salt and citrus. Finally, add bean sprouts, because if you overcook them then they get-for lack of a better word-slimy. I like them with a bit more bite."
10. Use Seasonal Ingredients
"Now you have this vibrant, beautifully colored, refreshing soup. That's the beauty of us chefs, we love to make things seem a lot more difficult. So your guest is like, 'Oh my God, I can't believe you created this' and you're like, 'Oh, I've been working all day-it's so hard,' when it's really a beautiful soup made in 10 minutes. It's all about using seasonal ingredients-that's when they taste wonderful on your palate, and that's what makes my job so much easier, and your job of eating my food a much more beautiful experience."
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