Chef Ben's web Site
Chef Ben's web Site
Home CookBook Calculator Journal Letters

I have answers to some of the e-mails sent to
Questions for the Chef posted here.

I am very interested in your culinary questions.
Please us this easy and simple form to send me your questions, recipes, or thoughts.

Q. Why in any restaurant when you order lobster or crab legs, or something that needs to be dipped in butter, does the butter taste so good and sweet? I have tried using salted and unsalted REAL butter, and it just does not taste the same at all. Could you tell me what the trick is? Thank you so much!
A.The butter you are served in a restaurant is drawn or clarified butter, which is made with sweet unsalted butter. Drawn butter is butter that has had the milk solids and water removed.

Q.I have been a caterer, chef and restaurant reviewer but for the last six years I have been in the insurance industry, but have felt like something is missing, so I am trying to re-do my resume to show my kitchen experience. I am thinking of getting into food sales because I have three kids and remember how long and arduous the hours were in the kitchen. If you were hiring me, what qualities and attributes would you look for in a resume?
A.I know a lot of food service people who have moved in to the food sales end of the industry. I think having a person who understands the product, how to use them and hands on experience with the products a very useful skill. But I am not an expert at sells; I'm essentially just a cook. Good luck with your job hunt.

Q.I am a senior and I am looking for some advice of which kind of culinary chef I should be. What field do you prefer? What school's do you recommend to go to for college? Please email me back; I would appreciate it very much.
A.It does not matter what kind of chef you want to be before you start school. Depending on the school you decide to attend you probably will not need to know right away, if your interested in only pastry you can take a pastry chef course. But in my opinion I would go for culinary arts degree and then branch off if your interests go in a certain direction. As for the school you go to, it depends on how much time and money you have, whether you have to work while going to school etc. I would go for the most education you personally can handle. Of course there is always the CIA, I myself attended the Restaurant School of Philadelphia. I don't think it really matters as long as you work hard and pay attention; the old saying goes "you get out of school what you put into it". Whenever some one like you asks me I always caution them with the facts about the restaurant industry. You work on all weekend and holidays, you work hard 12 to 14 hour days in very hot kitchens during the summer. If you can live with these precautions a career in the culinary art can be fun, excited and very satisfying. If your ever have any other questions don't be afraid to e-mail me again. Good luck in your career choice.

Q.When making a crème Brûlée, what does it mean to "put mix in a warm water bath?"
A.This is called a Bain-Marie (fr.) a warm water bath that gently and slowly cooks delicate food by surrounding the cooking container with simmering water.

Q.I live in Rio de Janeiro and am a big chocolate chip cookie fan. I had a recipe for the best cookies, which I lost. I have been trying out all kinds of different recipes, including the classic Tollhouse (soft and chewy) cookie recipe. But to my sadness the cookies never turn out. I simply can't figure out what might be going wrong! No matter what recipe I use they look beautiful in the oven but turn out totally flat when they have been done baking.
A.There are many reasons why your cookies may be spreading too much. Too much sugar, blending the sugar and fat too much, an inferior butter with too much liquid, or using a cake flour instead of all-purpose flour. I am guessing the problem has to do with your elevation, or your oven temperature being to low. I think both of these situations could cause the same problem. My suggestion is to check you oven temperature with a good oven thermometer. Try raising the temperature of your oven 25 degrees. See how that works, and tell me your results; I would be interested in how the cookies turn out. Good luck.

Q.How do you roast sweet peppers?
A.Please see the instructions on my web site.Click Here

Q.I make a great apple pie! The problem is my crust is always soggy on the bottom.
A.There are a few reasons why you crust may be soggy on the bottom. Your oven temperature could be to low, you may not be getting enough heat on the bottom of the pie for some reason either the bottom heating element is not working or you have something blocking the heat when you bake the pie, you might be baking the pie to close to the top of the oven, or you may not have enough starch in the filling (corn starch or flour).

Q.Could the Jalapeño cream be used as a sauce for pasta?
A.I don't see why not, try it and tell how it was.

Q. Chef, I want to prepare a side of salmon fillet. I will visit the local fishmonger for the fillet but I want a recipe to prepare it simply and a good sauce - perhaps a dill sauce? Please help.
A.This is pretty easy. Just season your salmon with salt and pepper and Bake it or broil what ever is your preference. For the sauce you can do something easy or some thing really easy. Since you mentioned dill, which I do like very much. (You are serving the salmon hot?) Actually this first one is good hot or cold
Lemon dill vinaigrette
2 tbsp. Fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. Chopped scallions
1 tbsp. Chopped fresh dill
To taste salt and pepper
1/2 cup virgin olive oil

Mix everything with exception of the oil together well, than slowly whisk in olive oil.
Dill cream sauce
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. chopped shallots
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
to taste salt
to taste ground white pepper
1.Sauté the shallots in the butter in a heavy stainless steel sauce pan till translucent but not brown.
2.Add the wine and reduce by half.
3.Add the cream and bring to a boil then reduce heat and slowly reduce till (nappe) thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
4.Add the fresh dill and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

Q.Chef, do you spend hours figuring out what ingredients go with what? Is it a combination of experience that makes it easy for you to create a dish? How does one learn to do this? Should I spend time testing ingredients/flavors and just put something together and hope that people like it?
A. No I don't spend hours figuring what goes with what. I have been cooking professionally for over twenty years, and by the grace of god I have a good palette. But it really is not as complicated as it seems, since you can only taste four different thing on your palette is not that hard. I spend a lot of time reading recipes, not so much for the techniques but for the combinations. I also study all of the world's cuisines to get combination Ideas. One more thing never serve something you have not tasted, I say taste everything and often. If you don't like it nobody else will either.

Q.Wild rice is pain for me. I seem to always overcook it until it curls up. It never seems to be done enough otherwise.
A.When it comes to wild rice the character of the product is that it is chewy, this is a good thing if the wild rice is curling up excessively just cook it less. If your are using a secondary cooking method, say cooking the rice first then using it in a casserole and cooking it with other things a second time cook it even less. I found a good way to cook wild rice, or any rice or other grain for that matter, is to cook it in the unlimited water or pasta method. You just put a lot of water in a pot and cook the wild rice like you making pasta at a boil till the rice is at the consistency you prefer, your going to have to do try and error till you get it right. I always fine I learn the most from my biggest mistakes.

Q.Any tips on this one? I watched a competition show on Food TV the other day and I noticed that they used timers a lot. Of course, I know they are competing but should I get use to using one. What's your professional take and thank you for allowing me to bug you.
A.As for the timer, professional cooks do not use timers we use the clock in our heads. But if you're not a professional chef a good time can be very helpful. As for food completion on TV. I dislike food competition on TV because it gives a false Impression about the food service industry! For that matter I dislike food competition of any kind my job is not a game show. For 99.999% of chefs our job is just a hands on get the job done non-glamorous profession, these "media chefs" misrepresent the food service industry.

Q.Chef, I'm trying to make a decision about the salmon I want to take to a party. There are 20 of us and I was hoping to get a large side of salmon for a nice presentation. Question is, how large? Second problem is, just last week the news stations in Baltimore did an "undercover" story on the seafood in local supermarkets. I guess you canimagine that it didn't turn out well for the supermarkets after samples were taken to some lab. So, now I'm stuck with finding perhaps online locations for seafood - cause I just don't trust what's local.
A. I think your going to need more than one side of salmon, Depending on the size of the salmon and the size of the portion size. I personally would use a 6 oz. portion for a party, I a restaurant we serve a larger portion 7-8 oz. but I would use the 6 oz. portion at home. If you buy a skin on side maybe 7 oz. will be fine. so if you multiply 6oz. by 20 you get 71/2 lbs. most salmon run 9-11 lbs. so you will probably need a whole salmon Filleted. When I comes to getting fresh fish you must find a fish market you can trust, It is a real problem! You have to get to know the person in charge of where you buy your fish and make a friend of them. You will have more luck at a place that does a brisk business. I found the stores like Fresh Fields and the gourmet type stores are a pretty good bet. I personally buy all of my fish for home at Costco club store. I would be a little weary about buying fish over the Internet or through the mail. I like to see my fish when I buy it.

Q. from Diane, what is to 'scald' cream orange zest and vanilla for creme brulle.
A.This answer is for Diane, you sent me an e-mail with a bad return address I hope you see this.
to scald means to heat the cream to just below the boiling point.

Q.I have been making Jewish Apple Cake for some time. I recently have had the problem of the cake falling, looking like the apples are too heavy for the batter and falling through. The cake still tastes as good, but doesn't look as good.
A.There are many reasons why a cake may fail . But if you are doing everything the same as you did when the cake worked out. I would tell you to check your oven temperature. ovens can become out of adjustment or your thermostat may stop working properly. use a good oven thermometer and check to see if the true temperature of your oven reached the temperature you set if for. Did you move to a different altitude? This will also affect your baking.

Q.I have seen several recipes for chocolate soufflé. Some call for flour, others don't. what is the best method to get a nice individual soufflé that rises well? I also want to adapt a desert soufflé to use pumpkin and spice for thanksgiving.
A.If you are talking about a baked soufflé you definitely need to use flour or corn starch. You can make a baked chocolate soufflé work with out flour or starch but it will be much easier to us one or the other and the results are just fine. Basically a soufflé is a very thick sauce lightened with egg whites and baked so you can make a soufflé out of any thick sauce. The real key is the amount of egg white and the baking time. You have to get the soufflé to rise and then have the egg white just set with out over baking and ending up with just a very spongy cake.
For the pumpkin soufflé you have to choices you can use a standard flour recipe or I think because pumpkin is so thick and starchy already, You should be able to just take the canned thick pumpkin, (use the canned it would be to time consuming to make your own and the result would not be better.) try this recipe, tell me how you make out.

4 egg separated
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice or to taste
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup canned pumpkin
1. Beat the egg yolks till thick and lemon colored; add the sugar and mix to dissolve. add the vanilla, spices add salt and pumpkin stir well.
2. beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the pumpkin mixture.
3 Pour into greased baking ramekins (4-6) smooth tops, bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minute for small ramekins, 350 degrees for one large baking dish. serve immediately.

For the other kind of soufflé just take a vanilla soufflé, substitute the brown sugar for granulated sugar, add the pumpkin spice omit any other flavoring, mix 1/2 cup of the pumpkin to the soufflé base before folding in the egg whites.

Q. Do you know how you make pizza dough with yeast and flour...what would happen if you used a nut flour with the yeast or even maybe oat flour? Is it worth trying? They are both gluten free. Could I use wheat gluten flour along with them and if so what would be the ratio for 1 pizza. If not how could I make a pizza dough without using enriched white flour or whole wheat flour.
A. I'm not sure why you would want to make a pizza dough with a nut crust or with out using enriched white flour or whole wheat flour? Do you have some kind of food allergy?
You can try several things. First of all you can not use only nut flour, it will not work at all.
You can add nuts, oat flour or whole wheat flour to a regular pizza dough in a small quantity, I would not add any more than 1/4 cup or nut flour or 1/2 cup oat flour, because of the qualities you want in a pizza dough. For pizza you need a stretchy dough, the stretchiness comes from the gluten in the flour which is a protein. If you add anything to the flour it will interfere with the gluten and will note produce that stretchy chewy pizza crust you are used to. As for the gluten flour you can add it to the all purpose flour to help the flour work better, you would add about 2 tbsp. of pure gluten flour to the mixture. Your best bet for pizza is high gluten bread flour. If you are looking for a more natural product you can find all kind of good unfooled-around with flours at a whole foods store.

Q. I keep kosher and would like to know what I can use in a cake recipe when one of the ingredients is buttermilk and I cannot use a dairy product because I am making a meat meal? I would like a pareve recipe for pumpkin pie.Thank you.
A. Have you discovered soy milk yet? It is available at most grocery stored now and works well in any recipe you need a substitute for milk, It is completely pareve and you can find kosher products. I have made pumpkin pie with soy milk and no one knew the difference. for the butter milk you can use the soy milk with a little vinegar or lemon juice mix in ( about 1 tsp. per cup) or you can use water with the vinegar or lemon juice mixed in. butter milk is almost all water any way.

Q. I marinated halibut in a pesto salad dressing that contained oil and vinegar, for 30 minutes. When I broiled the halibut at 400 degrees about 10 minutes per inch the fish turned into a pasty texture Why would that happen?
A. 30 minutes is much to long of a time to marinate a white-fleshed fish like halibut. You do not need to marinate fish to make it less tough, only to flavor or season it, this can be accomplished in just a few minutes, no more than five minutes. A heavier fish like sword, tuna or shark can be marinated longer. In fact 30 minutes is a long enough time for the marinade to cook the fish. So you actually cooked the fish twice.

Q. Chef Ben, I go out to restaurants often and was wondering how much of my tip goes to the cooks or chefs?
A. I have been working in restaurants for almost 30 years now, and I have received part of the tip from a wait-person less then the fingers on one hand!! If you had a great meal in a restaurant and really enjoyed yourself and want to tip the kitchen staff or the chef you should give the tip to the kitchen staff yourself, don't be afraid to ask the wait-person to call the chef out of the kitchen to voice your pleasure to the chef or cook yourself. I know I would love to shake your hand and hear your compliment myself. What ever you do not give the tip for the kitchen to the wait-person they will keep it for them self. Do not assume that they will give it to the kitchen or even for a minute that part of your regular tip is going to the kitchen it is not.