Why Understanding Dry Heat Cooking Will Make You a Better Cook

Hot in Here: Dry and Moist Heat Cooking


ICE Blog #4: Hot in Here: Dry and Moist Heat Cooking

Article & Photography by Sara Tane 
What’s it like to be three months into culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education, you ask? Oh, I’ll tell you. You have eaten more red meat in the last three months than you have in your entire life. You respond to basically everyone and everything with “yes, chef.” You spend a lot of time searching online for top-rated orthopedic shoes. Your pile of dirty laundry is somehow even more massive than it used to be. Your roommates LOVE you because...leftovers. If any of your friends try to make plans, you immediately let them know that you’re busy and can’t make it. You accept the fact that you smell like garlic. All the time. You’re fielding a lot more random texts from friends asking how to make salad dressing or if you know of a good muffin recipe (you’re not charging a consulting fee quite yet, but one day you will).

Aside from some of these general lifestyle adjustments, you’re also becoming a better cook everyday. That’s pretty exciting, isn’t it? In this last month of school, we dove head first into dry and moist heat cooking. Don’t know what the difference is? Don’t worry—I had no idea either. Dry heat cooking includes sautéing, pan-frying, grilling, and deep-frying, which are all techniques where heat is transferred to the food via hot oil. Even though it seems counterintuitive because oil is not “dry”, the term “dry” implies that there’s no water (i.e., moisture and steam) involved in the cooking method. On the other hand, moist heat cooking includes roasting, braising, stewing, boiling, steaming, and poaching. Rather than dry heat, where the temperature of oil can be as hot as 400°F, moist heat cooking doesn’t get much hotter than the boiling point of water (212°F).

Mastering the art of sautéing with these pork medallions and sea scallops in a cornichon pan sauce.

I really enjoyed the dry heat cooking classes. There’s something extremely satisfying to me about cranking the burner to its absolute maximum and searing a hearty cut of meat. During these classes, we learned how to sauté all sorts of meats and how to use the pan drippings to make a buttery pan sauce. Even though the dirty dish situation at the end of these classes was an absolute nightmare (have you ever cleaned up a kitchen after 12 people have made rounds and rounds of pan-fried meals?), the extra scrubbing was definitely worth it. Everything was super fast-paced, and the four hour class felt like 20 minutes (although the clean-up still felt like an eternity). Nothing like a good adrenaline rush behind the stove, you know?

Pan sauces for days! Sautéed strip steak cooked to medium rare in a red wine pan sauce on the left, and a sautéed chicken breast in white wine pan sauce on the right.
In a weird way, these classes reminded me of high school basketball practice. Each dish felt like a new drill or exercise and once we covered the basic technique, we’d put it all together in a game-like simulation. At the end, the chef/coach then tells you how you did. The good thing about culinary school versus basketball practice is that if you mess something up when you’re cooking, you don’t have to run sprints. Instead, you just have to live with the fact that what you made was not up to par and that you’re a huge failure (JK).
Hope you're not afraid of a little butter! Sautéed flank steak in a red wine pan sauce on the left and Fillets of Sole à la Meunière on the right. 

The day we covered deep frying was one of my favorite classes, to date. From beer-battered fish to broccoli tempura to Southern fried chicken to classic French fries, there was *plenty* going on that day, and everything was SO tasty. I don’t even want to think about how much oil was used that day. All of this to say, my favorite dry heat cooking method is by far GRILLING. Achieving those beautifully-seared hatch marks across the proteins and veggies was such a thrill. I cannot wait to go home and absolutely school my Dad. He has no idea what’s coming! I am a grill master. Somebody, anybody, please invite me to your next pool party and let me cook you a bounty of grilled goodies. I will not disappoint you, I promise.

The moist heat cooking methods have not been as enthralling as the dry heat cooking classes because it’s a slower pace of cooking, but still an important skill for the toolbox, regardless. I think part of the reason why these classes have not been necessarily lighting a fire under me is because the last thing I want to think about when the weather is finally starting to warm up is...lamb stew. Despite the untimeliness of this chapter, everything that we’ve made has been falling-off-the-bone and delicious. One of my favorite dishes of school so far was a Chicken Tagine that we braised in a hearty concoction of veggies and dried fruits, served over a bed of couscous, and topped with an herby chermoula. It was warm, cozy, spicy, sweet, and PERFECT! I briefly considered moving to Morocco after that class.

Ever heard of pommes persillade? Perfectly cubed potatoes are par-cooked, then sautéed in oil, and tossed in butter, garlic, and parsley. Simple yet SO perfect!

Our next chapter is breakfast cookery, which I’m extremely excited about, but until then, I’ll be eating coq au vin in 80 degree weather, accidentally greeting the guy that works at the bodega by saying “hi, chef,” and addressing the enormous pile of dirty aprons that are currently on the floor of my bedroom. In other words, I’m on my merry way to world class chefdom.

Learn more about my journey through culinary school here!