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Chefs Keller and Samuelsson say mastering simple steps can enhance your home cooking

You vow to become a better cook, to expand your range beyond the dozen dishes you prepare from memory, to give your dishes a gourmet spin.

But admit it: You recoil in horror when a recipe takes two days to make.

We hear you. So do some of America's top chefs whose newest cookbooks are filled with tips geared to help home cooks up their culinary game without foam-makers, gallons of truffle oil and battalions of sous chefs.

Two notables: Thomas Keller and Marcus Samuelsson.

Keller, chef of Napa Valley restaurants French Laundry and Ad Hoc, counsels in his cookbook Ad Hoc at Home: "Learn to use salt properly. . . . It may be the single most important skill a home cook can learn."

Among his caveats on the subject: "We use pepper to introduce a new flavor to a dish. You should be able to taste it. By contrast, salt only enhances flavors that are already there," he writes. "If you can taste the salt in a dish, it's too salty."

In New American Table, chef Samuelsson of Aquavit in New York and C-House in Chicago urges cooks to think of condiments — from balsamic vinegar to soy sauce and fish sauce — not as "crusty old bottles that take up space on the refrigerator door," but as integral parts of cooking. "You can play with the different flavors for simple shortcuts to enliven your cooking."

And he'd love to see you expand your concept of sauces beyond the butter-based variety.

"You really want to put something on your protein that you can eat with noodles or bread," Samuelsson told us in a phone interview. But instead of a gravy alongside grilled meats, fish or vegetables, try light, bright vinaigrettes, such as an herb-rich chimichurri sauce or a Puerto Rican sofrito.

Or consider reductions, liquids cooked until the volume reduces and the flavors intensify. No need for butter or cream, said Samuelsson, who likes beet or carrot reductions with a bit of orange or lemon juice, perhaps ginger. "Add a little cumin and lime juice instead."

A perfect example? This roast pork recipe that uses a whole-grain mustard vinaigrette to enhance the meat's flavor.

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Roast Pork Tenderloin and Asparagus

With Mustard Vinaigrette

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use

1 pork tenderloin, about 1 ¼ pounds

½ teaspoon salt, divided use

Freshly ground pepper

1 pound asparagus

3 shallots, cut in wedges

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Season pork with ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper to taste. Cook, turning, until browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven. Roast until pork is cooked, 12 to 15 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss asparagus, shallots, 1 tablespoon of the oil, remaining ¼ teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste. Arrange vegetables in a single layer. Roast, tossing once, until tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Whisk together vinegar, mustard and remaining 1/3 cup of the oil. Slice pork; serve with vegetables. Drizzle all with vinaigrette.

Serves 4.

Nutritional information per serving: 440 calories, 31g fat, 7g carbohydrates, 33g protein, 422mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Meals

Chefs Keller and Samuelsson say mastering simple steps can enhance your home cooking 02/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 3:30am]
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