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The Rules of Cooking vs Overcooking

With Julian Brunt

I am a firm believer that you should cook where you are, using local ingredients and traditional recipes. Of course, I do not mean exclusively, but it should be your mainstay. I love Southern food-ways, and I include in that Cajun and Creole, what could be better than fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread? But Southern cooks do have one major fault: they overcook everything!

Maybe the most egregious mistake is overcooking vegetables. Vegetables should be cooked like pasta, al dente. Greens, peas and beans, carrots, even asparagus should have a nice snap to them, and should ever be mushy, reserve that for mashed potatoes. 

I was raised on well done beef, and never thought anything about it till one evening, many years ago, I was sitting in a dark restaurant in Amsterdam, and had ordered a filet. When it arrived, I thought it was the most delicious filet I had ever had. Then a car, with lights on, pulled into the parking lots and I saw that mu filet was medium rare, or maybe even rare. Never again did I order beef well done. I had learned my lesson, overcooking beef makes it tough and far less flavorful. 

Now this is where some of you are going to disagree with me: pork is the same way! Back in the days when trichinosis was a problem, pork had to be cooked well done just to make it safe, but those days are long gone. When is the last time you heard of someone getting trichinosis? A nice thick porkchop should be a little pink at the center.

The one food that cooks all over the world overcook is seafood. Years ago I visited an old friend on Point Cadet, and when I walked in the back door, his wife was frying shrimp. I didn’t stay long, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, but I left, she was still frying those shrimp! Believe it or not, if you are frying oysters, they are ready just as soon as the batter turns brown and crunchy, no more than two minutes. Sauteing shrimp? It’s the same thing, max 2 minutes and they are done. Nothing is worse than an overcooked shrimp that is rubbery and tasteless. 

The foods we buy today are fresh, clean and safe to eat, there is absolutely no reason to over cook anything. Give it a try!

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Written by Julian Brunt

Julian Brunt is a food and travel writer that has been writing about the food culture of the Deep South for over a decade. He is the eleventh generation of his family to live in the South, grew up in Europe, traveled extensively for the first fifteen years after graduating from the University of Maryland, University College, Heidelberg, Germany. Today, he's a contributor for multiple publications, including Our Mississippi Home. He's also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's television show, "To Hell and Back in 24 Hours."

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