Traditional Japanese cuisine, known as kaiski cuisine, is known for its many courses and specific simple cooking methods. One of the many dishes to be served in a Japanese tea ceremony the yakimono plate. The yakimono dish describes how it is prepared rather than what is in it. An expectation is that this dish is grilled but grilled doesn’t encompass all the possibilities. It can be prepared on charcoal, broiler, frying pan or even roasted in an earthenware vessel. It is a nice way of understanding that all these ways of cooking your dish cook transfer heat into the food in similar ways despite them looking very different. What does roasting really mean? How can we use it most effectively in our everyday lives?
Roasting is done by cooking food with dry heat, often very intense dry heat. Examples of roasting are grilling, pan roasting, broiling and often baking. Each of these ways transfer heat into a food without any additional water as a conduit. The heat moves into the food, often from one side requiring food to be rotated, until the center barely reaches the goal doneness. Here is a model of how heat moves and transfers. Hold on folks, I’m about to get really nerdy.
This is a form of Fourier’s law. It describes heat conduction. It will help us conceptualize how to leverage the tools we have.
q = − k ∇ T
where (including the SI units)
q is the local heat flux density (heat flow rate), W·m−2
∇ T is the temperature gradient, K·m−1.
In other words, the type of food you are cooking and it’s starting temperature will determine the cooking time and temperature to achieve desired doneness. The only thing we can vary in this is the ∇ (change in) T (temperature). The larger the temperature differential is between the food and the heat the faster heat can move into the food. But there is a catch; the further the colder the food is the further (heat wise) we have to travel to become edible. In higher heat will transfer heat into the food faster but our food is not paper thin this transfer occurs within the food itself until the whole item reaches the same temperature. However, this is tricky science. If we make that temperature differential too large, you’ll end up with an inedible, burnt mess. And trust me, even I’ve done it.
Tip: start with room temperature foods when roasting. Imagine your two chicken pieces, one is room temperature 70F the other out of the refrigerator is 35 F. You will bake them both in the same oven. The exterior of the chicken will cook at nearly the same rate however the refrigerator chicken will take significantly longer for the middle to reach the safe 165F the room temperature one. If we imagine the chicken like a tree trunk with rings. The outer rings have been very hot for a very long time. That makes the cold chicken dry and the room temperature chicken juicy. If you can leave your protein on the counter for about an hour before cooking and no more than two. You will notice a difference.
It is difficult to illustrate this abstractly. The recipe below will give opportunity to expound on what exactly is happening.
Pan Roasted Fillet of Salmon
1 or 2 portions of salmon, 3-5 oz each
Salt and pepper to taste
light olive oil or neutral oil for lubricating pan
Lemon, wedge as condiment
Recommended: heavy non stick pan or cast iron and spatula (fish spatulas are great for fish)
In a cold pan drizzle in a very small amount of oil.
Salmon is an oily fish and will release some of its fats while cooking so don't add too much
Season the fillets with salt and pepper and place in cold pan skin side down.
Dropping a fillet into a hot pan makes the skin contract and separate from the rest of the fillet. Use a cold pan to start.
Place your pan on medium high heat. Once sizzling reduce to medium. Cook 3-4 minutes. Turn once and cook an additional 4 minutes. Serve immediately garnish with lemon wedge.
The first place finisher has the center of the fish just barely cooked. Overshoot and the fish will start to overcook and dry out. Undercook and it isn’t quite edible.
Picture your cold fish being heated from only one side. The top half is completely raw and the bottom surface risks burning. You want to turn it about half way through the cooking process so that as the center of the meat approaches edible temperature we turn it over for the raw side to cook. We use medium heat so that the surfaces don't burn and please only turn it once. The more we play with the fish, the more it will fall apart. Fish is a fragile thing and we aren’t trying to make salmon salad in this article.
Some things demand a bit more char:
Grilled london broil with wet onion marinade
1 london broil about 1.5-2.5 lb
1 medium raw onion, rough dice
½ rib celery
1 tbs Salt
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs vinegar
3 tbs oil
London broil is one of my favorite cuts when done well. Sometimes it is too tough to enjoy. Poke the meat at the store. If it feels soft and tender that is one you should consider. If it feels hard perhaps you should move on to the next one. Not sure? Feel a ribeye steak for a great point of reference.
To make the marinade, puree everything together. I like the immersion blender. Marinade meat minimum 1 hour and up to how ever many days are left on your meats shelf life. Not sure? Most supermarkets give cut beef a four day shelf life. The label should have a packed on date. Check it to determine how long it is safe to marinade your meat.
Set up and preheat your gas grill on high heat. Shake off excess marinade from the beef and sear high heat for 3 minutes. Turn and reduce the heat to medium and cook an additional 5-6 minutes with the grill closed. Add 2 minutes to each step for a well done london broil.
Charcoal is a bit harder to use. Set your coals up in zones of high heat (lots of coals) and indirect heat(no lit coals at all). Sear for 1.5 minutes each side on the high heat and move to the indirect side with the lid on for an additional 6-12 minutes depending on how done you prefer your meat.
In both cases rest 5 minutes, slice and enjoy or save whole to slice and enjoy later.
The fish and london broil sound rather similar. That is because they are. The method is doing both of these is identical though the tools may look different. The grill is a bit more aggressive and results are surprisingly alike. Goal is a barely cooked center with char or browning on the exterior.