Do I really have to preheat the oven?

Dear Friends and Cooking Comrades, Welcome back home!

“Do I really have to preheat the oven?”  Yes.  It’s like stretching before a run, or warming up the car, or letting the water get hot before you shower.  Food cooks unevenly in a cold oven.  Your poor dish starts in a cold oven, then it has to deal with a warm oven, then finally a hot oven, it doesn’t know what to do!

Meats, roasts and poultry can’t brown in a cold oven.  And there’s nothing worse than having one part of your dish overcooked and rubbery and another part not cooked at all.  Preheating an oven is especially important with baking when you use yeast, baking soda and baking powder as leavenings – which react to heat.Food also cooks faster in a preheated oven – you’ve got the right temperature from the get-go and your dish can start cooking immediately and properly.

In our professional kitchen, the first one to arrive always pre-heats the ovens, so they are ready for all of us to use right away.  It’s a reflex; a habit.

Preheating is not a waste of energy, it is vital to being a good steward of your delicious ingredients.  The stove has a thermostat that will keep the oven at the desired temperature, so if you set the temperature for 350-degrees and the stove reaches 350-degrees, it will stop heating and stop using power or fuel until the heat drops below 350-degrees and the heating elements start back up and cycle on again.

Opening the door to the oven too often lets a lot of the heat escape.  This is a challenge for new cooks.  You want to keep checking what you have cooking, particularly if it’s your first time trying the recipe.  Sometimes the oven window just doesn’t give you a good idea of what is going on.  So check as often as you need to, but look quickly and try to keep the door opening to a minimum, so you can maintain oven temperature.  You can pull the dish out of the oven, close the oven door behind you (I do a fancy back kick with my foot to shut the oven door when my hands are full), check the temperature or make any adjustments to the dish, and then quickly open the door and return the dish to the hot oven, minimizing heat loss.

It matters that you take 15-20 minutes – depending on your stove – and preheat to the temperature in the recipe.  It’s the difference between a great cook and a lousy cook.

So get in the habit of preheating your oven.  Don’t be lazy – it’s only turning a knob for heaven’s sake.  Do it first thing while you’re prepping your ingredients and getting your mis en place together.

Just as important:  TURN OFF YOUR STOVE WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED COOKING AND YOU’RE SURE YOUR DISH IS COOKED TO THE DESIRED TEMPERATURE.

Turn off the stove.  Turn off the stove.  Turn off the stove.  Check and double check.  Write yourself a note to remind yourself, if you have to.  Don’t leave it to someone else.

Yours,

Chef  David

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