The saying “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” sounds all well and good, but in the sizzling summer, kitchens are hot and we still have to eat. Takeout or delivery for three months simply isn’t an option. How many times can you rework a store-bought rotisserie chicken? And yes, salads and slaws are great, but sometimes you want something a bit more toothsome. Let’s flip this adage, and take the heat, rather than yourself, out of the kitchen.
Sous vide is an option, as are multicookers such as the Instant Pot. Both, however, involve special and not-inexpensive equipment. What about using what’s already available?
Low-temperature oven roasting was a serious revelation for me. Typically, roasting is a fairly high-heat affair, and it enhances flavor through caramelization and browning on the surface of the food, a process known as the Maillard reaction. Slow-roasting takes the temperature down to 300 degrees or lower. We all think low and slow for braised meats in winter, but it can work in summer, too. And slow roasting keeps the kitchen a heck of a lot cooler. Sure, things take a lot longer to cook, but that can be an advantage. Since the temperature is lower, less moisture is lost, and that gives tender, juicy results. There’s also a whole lot of forgiveness with timing because it takes so much longer for your food to overcook.
Slow-roasting is a perfect technique for fish, which, because it’s satisfying without being too heavy, also makes it great for summer. But cooking fish at home can be incredibly intimidating. Most fish recipes rely on the 10-minutes-per-inch-of-thickness rule of thumb - that’s not much room for error. Slow-roasting over 30, 40 or even 60 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, results in a beautifully tender, evenly cooked piece that’s especially appropriate for dinner parties and folks less familiar with cooking seafood. It’s fish cookery with training wheels.
You don’t have to prepare such tender proteins as fish to appreciate slow-cooking. Take meat. Undoubtedly, there’s nothing like meat that has been kissed by flame and enveloped in smoke. We’re accustomed to pork ribs on the grill or smoker, even in the heat of summer. But, if it’s hot outside, it’s even hotter in front of that grill! Slow-roasting works here, too. The keys to success are using a dry rub to help accentuate the flavor and lifting the ribs above the baking sheet on a rack to allow the heat to circulate all around. After a few hours, the meat nearly falls off the bone.
Another way to keep heat out of the summer kitchen is to use a slow cooker. Sure, it involves special equipment, but the barrier to entry is exceedingly affordable, and if you don’t have one, you can pick one up at most major grocery stores. Opening the door on a cold night and being greeted by the inviting smells of stew from a slow cooker can be a dream come true. But winter is not the only time a slow cooker is useful. On a steamy hot night, it’s just as dreamy to be met with those dinner aromas along with a cold blast of air conditioning.
One of my favorites to make in the slow cooker in summer is pulled chicken. Boneless, skinless breasts simmer in a concoction of diced tomatoes, honey and spices until the meat is meltingly tender.
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With a bit of planning, all of these recipes are simple enough for a weeknight supper and exceptionally agreeable for weekend dinner parties. No sweat.