Wednesday, July 9th – Pouch Cooking

July 9, 2008

Today I Learned…

…how to cook using a pouch.  There’s a great story behind this one that I’ll share in a moment.  First, to the details.  Pouch cooking is great because it takes little prep time, and cooks food quickly and with a lot of moisture and flavor.  It’s basically a quick-fire steaming, like those bags of frozen vegetables that you can cook in the microwave right from the bag.  Just pick ingredients from the following categories:

Meat (pick 1)

  • Chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Fish
  • Pork

You can use just about anything, but these are the big ones.  I would stay away from beef or lamb, or other meats that need a good searing or browning.

Vegetables (pick 1 or 2)

  • Mushrooms
  • Artichoke Hearts
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Bok Choy

You can really use just about anything here — just pick to taste.  I’m a big fan of bell peppers, snow peas, and broccoli myself.

Starch (optional)

  • Rice
  • Noodles (pre-cooked, like Ramen)
  • Potato
  • Couscous

Starch is entirely optional, and is really to your taste.  As I noted, Ramen noodles (without the flavor packet) are a good choice since they’re pre-cooked.

Aromatics (1 or 2)

  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Scallions
  • Shallots
  • Carrots
  • Fennel
  • Celery

An aromatic is something that, when cooked, releases its flavor and odor into the rest of the food very well.  Don’t go overboard here, but these are going to give you a lot of flavor.  The traditional southern food “trinity” consists of onion, carrots, and celery, and garlic is one of my favorite additions to any dish.

Seasoning

  • Red, White, or Black Pepper
  • Honey
  • Kosher Salt
  • Coriander
  • Cilantro

Avoid dry herbs here (like rosemary).  If you’re not going to cook them for a long time, they’ll get stuck in your teeth, and that’s no good.  A healthy pinch of kosher salt and some black pepper should be added to everything you cook, almost without exception.  The rest is up to you.

Liquid (pick 1)

  • Soy sauce
  • Mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • Vegetable broth
  • Sesame oil
  • Dry vermouth
  • White or red wine
  • chicken stock

More or less a shot of whatever you choose here will go on top of everything else in the pouch to add flavor and moisture.

That’s basically it!  Arrange your food architecturally on a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil (use your starches first, followed by veggies and meat, then your aromatics and seasonings on top with the liquid last).  Crimp up your parchment paper more or less air-tight around the edge (you’ll have wanted to cut a piece like you used to make valentines in school — a heart or butterfly shape with a crease down the middle) after folding over the food.  If you’re using aluminum foil, just crimp up around the food in the center.

After that, just put your pouch in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes, then remove and enjoy!

Now, the funny story.  I actually learned this twice today — once when I was watching the wonderful Food Network show Good Eats, and then once again two hours later at my audition for Kaplan test prep, when one of my fellow interviewees taught this method, cribbed directly from the very same episode.  Bizarre, to say the least.

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