Preparation of Food
Food preparation has been a constant chore since the first human beings picked up cutting and mashing stones. In return, this effort to make the food edible, preserve it, and transform its character has sustained an ever-increasing population. Many techniques, including grinding, sifting, drying, salting, fermenting, sealing, and applying heat are extremely ancient. Few fundamentally new techniques have been introduced in the past two centuries, among them microwaving.
The processes of food preparation might be divided according to their primary science, whether physical (such as extracting nuts from their shells), chemical (adding salt or sugar), or biological (brewing beer). Perhaps more logically, they might be categorized according to their intended purpose. Some foods are toxic unless prepared properly.
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Others are scarcely edible until softened. Preparation can bring together nutritional variety. It can add intriguing flavors. Food preparation can also have negative impacts, especially on nutrients. Therefore care has to be taken throughout the process of cooking right from the preparation of ingredients to the final serving.
Many techniques are used for food preparation before cooking and they are done according to the requirements of the various dishes. This helps to improve, appearance texture, palatability, and flavor, and foods combine readily. The techniques are divided into two:
Preparation of Ingredients
The preparation of ingredients is popularly termed as Mise-enplace. Mise-en-place (pronounced mizãplas, which is literally “set in place”), is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as “everything in place”. It is used in kitchens to refer to the ingredients, such as cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components that a cook requires for the menu items that they expect to prepare.
Recipes are reviewed, to check for necessary ingredients and equipment. Ingredients are measured out, washed, chopped, and placed in individual bowls. Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints.
Solid foods which are to be mixed have to be reduced into sizes that will allow them to combine readily. A certain amount of preparation is thus mandatory.
- Washing: Washing is a form of cleansing food before preparation or eating. Washing is done to remove superficial dirt. Meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits are washed in cold water before any preparation, i.e. peeling or cutting. If cut and soaked for a long period or washed after cutting, there is a great loss of water-soluble vitamins and minerals. The more cut surfaces exposed the more nutrition is lost. The following are the points to be noted while washing fruits or vegetables:
- Remove and discard outer leaves.
- Rinse under clean, running water just before preparing or eating.
- Rub briskly by scrubbing with a clean brush or hands, to remove dirt and surface microorganisms.
- Don’t use soap or detergent.
- After washing, dry with a clean cloth or paper towel. Moisture left on produce may promote the survival and growth of microorganisms. Drying is critical if the food won’t be eaten or cooked right away.
- Cut away bruised and damaged areas.
- Bacteria on the outside of fruits can be transferred to the inside when the fruit is peeled or cut. Wash fruits; such as cantaloupe and other melons; under running water.
- Remove and discard outer leaves.
- Cutting: Cutting or chopping is reducing to small parts using a knife or scissors or a chopping knife or a food chopper. Cutting into even-sized pieces or cubes is called dicing. Cutting into very fine pieces with a knife is called shredding e.g. finger chips. Slicing is also cutting into thin long pieces it is not as fine as shredding, e.g. bread slices.
- Peeling and Scraping: Peeling is removing the outermost skin of fruits or vegetables manually or using a peeler, e.g. sweet limes, bananas, and boiled potatoes. Spoilt, soiled, and edible portions, skins of vegetables like potatoes, carrots, etc., and fruits are removed by scraping.
- Paring: Paring is removing the surface layer in a circular motion by the pressure of a knife edge all around the object, e.g. paring an apple.
- Grating: Grating is reducing a large piece of food to small particles or thin shreds by rubbing it against a coarse, serrated surface called a grater usually on a kitchen utensil. The food to be grated should be firm, which in the case of cheese can usually be accomplished by refrigeration. Grating food makes it easier to incorporate with other foods.
- Mincing: Mincing is a method in which food ingredients are finely ground. The effect is to create a closely bonded mixture of ingredients and a soft or pasty texture. Flavoring ingredients with spices or condiments such as garlic, ginger, and fresh herbs may be minced to distribute flavor more evenly in a mixture. Additionally, bruising of the tissue can release juices and essential oils to deliver flavors uniformly in a sauce. Meat is also minced to make meatballs, stuffings in meat puffs, etc.
- Slicing: Slicing is cutting into thin pieces, but not as fine as shredding.
- Shredding: Shredding is cutting into long narrow pieces by means of a shredder or knife, e.g. cabbage.
- Slitting: Making a slit in the middle lengthwise, e.g. lady’s fingers, green chillies, etc.
- Grinding: Grinding is reducing to small fragments or powder by crushing, as in grinding spices, or coffee in a flour mill or on a grinding stone.
- Mashing: Mashing is a method of breaking up soft food usually after cooking or boiling with pressure, with a potato masher, or with a fork.
- Pressing: Pressing is separating liquid portions from solids by weights or mechanical pressure, as in making cider from apples, paneer, screw pressing, etc.
- Puréeing: Puréeing is grounding, pressing, and/or straining vegetables or legumes to the consistency of a soft paste or thick liquid. Purées of specific foods are often known by specific names, e.g. mashed potatoes or apple sauce. Fruit juice concentrates are also made in the form of semi-solid puree, e.g. guava, tomato puree, etc.
- Sieving: Sieving separates wanted/desired elements from unwanted material using a tool such as a mesh or net. It also helps in enclosing air between powder particles and mixing ingredients evenly, like sieving flour for cakes. It also ensures uniformity of particle size.
- Refining: Refining is freeing desired material from impurities, as in refining cane sugar.
- Skimming: Skimming is removing a floating layer by passing a utensil under it (ladle) as in skimming the cream from milk.
- Rendering: Rendering is separating fat from connective tissues by heat as in rendering lard (dripping).
- Filtration: Separating solids or sediments from liquids, through fine-meshed materials, as in filtering fruit juices for jelly through a cloth bag or fine wire mesh strainer or filter press.
- Flavoring: A bundle of herbs and vegetables bouquet garni to impart flavor to stock and sauces.
- Julienning: Julienning is a method of food preparation in which the food item is cut into long thin strips. Common items to be julienned are carrots for carrots Julienne, potatoes for French fries, or celery for Céléris Remoulade. Julienne can also be applied to the preparation of meat or fish, Japanese same, especially in stir fry techniques.
- Sprouting: Sprouting is the practice of soaking, draining, and then moistening seeds at regular intervals until they germinate, or sprout.
- Flotation: Separating on the basis of difference in specific gravity as in the elimination of the over-immature peas in a batch by use of brine of appropriate strength.
- Evaporation or Reduction: Evaporation or reduction is the removal of water, commonly accelerated by heating without a lid.
- Homogenization: Sub-dividing large drops into smaller ones by forcing them through a small aperture under great pressure as in homogenizing the fat in the cream, homogenized milk, etc.
- Emulsification: Dispersing one liquid in another in which it is insoluble or unmiscible such as water and oil with the addition of an emulsifier; e.g. vegetable gums. If the dispersion is to be temporary, a stabilizer, which coats the droplets of the dispersed phase, must be incorporated, e.g. in mayonnaise.
Combining and Mixing in the Preparation of Foods
Food preparation often involves the combining and mixing of different food or food materials. Important effects of the methods of combining food or ingredients are those related to palatability.
Texture and flavor are often controlled to an important degree by the skill and method employed in combining component materials.
- Beating: Beating is mixing materials briskly, and lifting and dropping them with an appropriate tool. Whether done using an electric mixer or by hand with a fork, spoon, or whisk, to ‘beat’ is to vigorously mix, blend, or stir a mixture in a circular motion. This technique changes the consistency of the ingredient(s), from smoothing, mixing, and aerating the ingredients to incorporating air into egg whites or sweet cream. Rule of Thumb – 100 strokes by hand will equal about one minute with an electric mixer.
- Blending: Blending is a technique where two or more ingredients are combined so they are smooth and equally distributed throughout the mixture. A spoon, fork, rubber spatula, whisk, electric mixer with a paddle attachment, food processor, blender, or even bare hands can be used for this technique. Blending differs from beating in that its sole purpose is to combine the ingredients, not to incorporate air into the mixture.
- Cutting-in: Cutting-in is a technique used in pastry making (scones, biscuits) involving the mixing of a cold solid fat (butter, margarine, shortening) into dry ingredients (flour mixture) until the mixture is blended but still contains small flour-coated pieces of cold fat. This combining of the cold fat and dry ingredients must be done quickly and with a light hand so that the fat does not melt. For light and fluffy scones or biscuits, the fat should not become too soft or cut too fine. A pastry blender, two knives, fingers, a food processor, or an electric mixer with a paddle attachment can be used.
- Creaming: Creaming is a mixing or beating technique that combines ingredients to make a uniform mixture and also incorporates air into this mixture. Softening fat by friction with a spoon is usually followed by the gradual incorporation of sugar as in cake-making. The butter should be at room temperature so it incorporates the sugar sufficiently to produce a smooth and creamy batter that is light and fluffy. A whisk, wooden spoon, or electric mixer with a paddle attachment can be used.
- Kneading (pronounced (NEEDing): Kneading technique used in both bread making and pastries to combine and work a dough or mixture into a smooth and pliable mass. In bread making, kneading the dough also develops the gluten strands in the flour so it adequately holds in the gases released by the leaven (yeast) to produce bread with good volume and texture. This technique can be done by hand, using the press-fold turn action, or using a food processor or electric mixer with the dough hook.
- Whipping: Whipping is a mixing technique used to incorporate air into an ingredient or mixture (i.e. egg whites, heavy cream) to increase its volume and make it light and fluffy. This is done by vigorously beating in a circular motion using a wire whisk or electric mixer. Egg whites are often whipped and then added to cake batters to make them less dense so they have more volume when baked. Whipped heavy cream can be added to custards or sauces to make them lighter.
- Whisking: Whisking is a technique to rapidly beat or whip as much air (volume) as possible into a mixture or one ingredient (usually heavy cream or egg whites). This is accomplished by using a wire whisk or electric mixer. A whisk is made of several wires that are looped together into a teardrop shape and attached to a wooden or stainless steel handle. They come in many different sizes and shapes with wires of various amounts, thicknesses, and flexibilities. Whisks can be used to whip, blend or stir ingredient(s).
- Folding: Folding is a simple but crucial technique used when combining a light and airy ingredient into a heavier ingredient or mixture in such a way as each ingredient maintains its original volume. This technique must be done quickly but gently and stop ‘folding’ as soon as the ingredients are blended. Start by placing one-quarter of the lighter mixture on top of the heavier mixture.
With a rubber spatula cut down vertically through the two mixtures, sweep across the bottom, up the nearest side of the bowl, and over the top of the mixtures (go in a clockwise direction). Rotate the bowl a quarter turn counter-clockwise and repeat the down-across-up-over motion. This technique is commonly used to incorporate flour into a sponge cake base and add egg whites to a cake batter.
- Marinating: Marinating is the process of soaking foods in a seasoned, often acidic, and/or liquid before cooking. The ‘marinade’ can be acidic with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine, or savory with soy sauce, brine, or other prepared sauces. Along with these liquids, a marinade often contains oils, herbs, and spices to further flavor the food items.
It is commonly used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat or harder vegetables such as beetroot, eggplant, and courgette. The process may last seconds or days. Different marinades are used in different cuisines. In Indian cuisine, the marinade is usually prepared with yogurt and spices.
- Sealing: Sealing is the sauteing or pre-cooking of roast, to develop color and flavor.
- Stirring: Stirring is mixing materials with an appropriate tool, such as a spoon by a circular motion in contact with the pan (as in stirring white sauce). Generally, this is a gentle movement but changed to suit different dishes, as when used to prevent sticking or burning in halwas and toffees. If used too vigorously, it is likely to drive out any air or other gas previously enclosed as a raising agent.