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The heat is on

(article, Ashley Griffin Gartland)

Too much, too little, too diffuse, too concentrated. It's the ingredient that we don't think of as an ingredient, wrote Harold McGee recently in a New York Times article titled "The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen."

The mystery ingredient? Heat.  

McGee says that although cooks rely on heat to transform foods, they don’t always know how it works or how to use it:

bq. We waste huge amounts of gas or electricity, not to mention money and time, trying to get heat to do things it can’t do. Aiming to cook a roast or steak until it’s pink at the center, we routinely overcook the rest of it. Instead of a gentle simmer, we boil our stews and braises until they are tough and dry. Even if we do everything else right, we can undermine our best cooking if we let food cool on the way to the table — all because most of us don’t understand heat.

Condensed, here are McGee's tips for creating and using heat:

# If you can afford them, invest in the most efficient appliances and tools available; induction cooktops, for example, are far more efficient than gas or electric stovetops, generating heat directly within pans.
# Create better heat efficiency by covering pots and pans with lids to prevent heat from escaping into the air. 
# Don't turn up the heat just to make something cook faster; you’ll likely ruin the flavor and texture of your food. 
# Cook grains (and dried pastas) faster by presoaking them in water; this can cut cooking time by up to two-thirds.
# For meats and fish, cook with more than one level of heat to sear the outsides without overcooking the insides. On a grill, for example, create high and low heat zones and transfer meats from one zone to the other.
# Warm serving plates before putting hot food on them; this keeps food warmer longer.