Salamander broilers are a standard feature of most restaurant kitchens and a luxury feature of gourmet home kitchens. The broiler cooks with an intense infrared heat from above, in the same way that a barbecue grill cooks from below, but without the risk of fats and juices dripping onto hot coals. While a large proportion of a salamander’s culinary career is spent simply bringing dishes up to temperature before service, the broiler deserves greater credit for its versatility.
Since the salamander is capable of delivering searing temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit in some cases over a concentrated area, the broiler excels at providing short doses of ferocious heat to the surface of a dish for a short enough period that the dish can be removed before the heat penetrates the lower layers. Typically, therefore, salamanders are ideal for browning the breadcrumb mix on top of a dish to make gratin, or as a subtler alternative to a blowtorch for caramelizing the sugar on top of a crème brulee.
One of the reasons why salamanders are rather dismissively referred to as “cheese-melters” in commercial kitchens is for their ability to finish off dishes containing cheese. An open sub sandwich that needs a melted cheese finish, for example, requires only a perfunctory pass under a hot salamander to melt the cheese, while pizza can be brought back to life in similar fashion. Without the salamander, the bubbled, crusty grated cheese finish on a French Onion soup would also be more difficult to obtain.
If a roast bird emerges from the oven with a skin that seems underwhelming, the salamander picks up the slack by crisping the skin in a flash, without drying out the meat, since the cooking time is so short. Likewise, the broiler’s dry heat will quickly crisp up pork crackling, giving the skin a bubbled texture, especially if the skin is basted first in olive oil and salt and scored with a sharp knife to increase its surface area and expose the subcutaneous fats.
Whilst not an automatic choice for cooking steaks, broiling under a hot salamander does have the advantage over direct grilling that the fat renders away from the heat rather than onto it, eliminating the risk of flare-ups that will char the meat and give it a bitter taste. Nevertheless, the merciless heat from a salamander will cook the outside too quickly and leave thicker steaks raw in the middle, so it is only appropriate for thin-cut steaks. For fish, on the other hand, the salamander retains the juices in the fish, but is too robust for thin, flaky fish such as sole or flounder, which will dry out. Baste the skin in oil and the salamander will also crisp up the skin.
- Food University: Gratinating
- Food Arts: Hotter Than Hell
- New York Daily News: Best of New York, French Onion Soup
- Boston: Tasting Chickens
- Australian Pork: Roast Pork Loin
- Saveur: Four Ways to Cook Steak
- Edible Austin: How to Cook Fish
- Culinate: Playing with Fire, Ditch the Grill in Favor of the Broil
- Photo Credit idealistock/iStock/Getty Images
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