When it comes to meal prep, one thing you want to avoid as much as under-cooking is over-cooking. These blunders are often a result of uneven temperatures or a struggle to control them. For those seeking to master the heat, or even those looking to branch out to popular international methods, consider these classic French techniques.
French top cooking utilizes concentric rings that provide varying degrees of heat. This style of cooking is mainly used in professional kitchens and is often found in European homes, but it is gaining notoriety on this side of the pond.
Inspired by chefs taking advantage of hot spots on wood-fire stoves, French top has developed into an excellent, modern way to multi-pot cook. Now, with this type of technology, a chef touches a pan to the ring with the desired heat level, this heat would then spread evenly throughout the pan. French top may look and sound intimidating, but it is used by professional chefs and home cooks alike.
Joel Chesebro, head demonstration chef for Sub-Zero, Wolf, and Cove, says that while many professional chefs own these ranges at home, they are also purchased by “enthusiasts who want the interactive experience of cooking on French top” or simply “people who want the look of a French top” in their own kitchen.
Without having to adjust burners, chefs and cooks can sauté, simmer, and boil to perfection. Cooking this way may increase how much time one spends in front of a stove, but the deeply rich sauces and stews will be worth the wait. Simmering truly shines with this style of traditional French cooking since the flavors build and marry without too much extra moisture being added.
“I like to use a French top to prepare something that requires multiple pans—like risotto, says Chef Chesebro. “This requires the main vessel, a pot holding stock at a warm temperature, and a third pan to sauté the protein.”
French top ranges are a luxurious splurge to elevate a home kitchen to a new level. They are custom made to fit the buyer’s desires, and due to this, they often become heirlooms in families. Amy Colosia, regional sales manager of La Cornue, says these ranges become “the focal point of the kitchen since they are functional pieces of art.”
Sous vide is similar to French top cooking in that it is dependent on precise heat control. However, instead of managing an external temperature, the heat of the water inside of the pot needs to be regulated. There are some variations to this style of French cooking, but the common denominator is an airtight container which is often vacuum-sealed. This container is then immersed in a water bath heated via a metal coil to keep it consistently warm. There is no contact with a burner or other heated surface since the water is not meant to boil. This style of cooking is an easy, low-key introduction to French techniques.
There are many different ingredients that can be cooked sous vide, but proteins (beef, poultry, fish, etc.) may require a little extra attention. When cooking them this way, it is possible to achieve a uniform, internal temperature throughout the piece. Because of this, overcooking is easy to avoid, but this comes at the cost of a slow and gradual cooking process. In addition, cooking a protein like steak requires the chef to sear the meat in a pan after the sous vide process in order to achieve a crispy exterior.
When beginning to learn this style of French cooking, Kathleen Damm, corporate chef at Custom Distributors, Inc. says, “I would recommend starting with a protein and building on your skills from there.” Chef Damm says her go-to sous vide recipes involve protein, and many of her favorites feature red meat.
Sous vide cooking has also been around for a long time, since the 1700s, but had mainly been found in restaurant kitchens. Starting in the mid-2000s is when sous vide appliances began to appear in homes. Traditional sous vide systems can be built into cooking ranges, but they aren’t necessary to have with countertop models readily available. Also, new to the market are wall ovens that feature sous-vide-style results using warm air flow. Because of all of these available options, anyone can enjoy this classic, yet accessible, French culinary technique.
Article by Sydney Cox
Article originally appeared in February 2022