I like to cook but that doesn’t mean I know how to cook everything. Over the years I have looked up and learned and been taught by friends many of the tricks to make my cooking skills better.
Cooking is a skill that improves and develops over time with practice. No one is a fabulous cook from day one. I taught myself a lot through trial and error before I went off to school and needed to cook. In the beginning, I had a few successes and a ton of fails.
In today’s article we are going to go over a few of the tips that I have and that I have learned from others to help anyone become a better cook. Hopefully with these tips it will inspire you to improve your cooking skills so you and your families may enjoy a better meal.
This is a great way to approach cooking at home, too — once you’ve read your recipe, head to the refrigerator and cupboards, pull out all the ingredients you’ll need and set them up next to your work space. If it’s going to take you a little while to chop and prep, then leave your meat in the refrigerator until closer to when you’re ready to put it in a pan. As you prepare ingredients, if you don’t have enough room to keep them organized in little piles on your cutting board, transfer them to small bowls. We like to use the glass ramekins that you can pick up at most supermarkets for prepped ingredients.
Knife Is Important
Choke up on your chef’s knife. For better control, choke up on the handle to the point of putting your thumb and the side of your index finger onto the side of the blade right above the handle. Speaking of chef’s knives, invest in a good one (and keep it sharp). The longer, wider blade of a chef’s knife will give you speed, control, and confidence. There are a few important tips to caring for your knives. First, do not put your knives in the dishwasher. The heat from the dishwasher will dull the knives. Hone before and after every use to keep your edge straight and sharp. Knives bang around if left loose in a drawer, dulling the knives edges. It is best if they are stored in sleeves, in a block or on a magnetic strip. Finally, use only plastic or wood cutting boards. Do not cut on glass or marble! This is guaranteed to dull, chip or break your knife, not to mention the horrible sound it makes. Whenever a knife hits a surface, microscopic burrs form on the metal, causing the edge to dull.
Get the Right Equipment
The seven essential types of pots for one-pot meals include skillets, Dutch ovens, woks, roasting pans, casserole dishes, slow cookers and salad bowls. Besides those pots, a well-stocked kitchen includes a saucepan or two and at least two cutting boards, one for meat and fish and one for everything else. And ideally you should have a third board for fruit, so that it doesn’t end up tasting like garlic. We recommend using the biggest cutting boards your space will accommodate — the bigger the board, the more room you have for quickly prepping ingredients. You should also have a set of mixing bowls, dry and wet measuring cups and measuring spoons.
Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to use salt. Salt is used to enhance the flavor of a dish. Recipes never explicitly state all the times you should be seasoning your dish as you cook, so here’s our tip: Season as you go. Add a small pinch of salt every time a new ingredient is added to the dish, so that flavors have time to build.
The earlier you start seasoning, the deeper and more concentrated the flavors will become in the final product. When cooking meats, make sure to salt and tenderize with a fork the night before. And for pasta, salt the water generously, because that’s the only time the pasta will really be able to absorb any flavor.
Always keep lemons in the fridge.
They’ll keep longer that way, so you’ll always be able to add fresh lemon juice to everything from dressings to cocktails. Plus, you can use the squeezed rinds to clean and deodorize your wooden cutting boards.
Read the recipe all the way through before beginning.
This is a common admonishment, but it’s really true! How many times have you got halfway through a recipe and then discovered you forgot an ingredient, or added something all at once when it should have been divided? (I raise my hand sheepishly.) Reading a recipe all the way through and taking time to put it in your own words in your head will help you not only cook a little better, but will teach the underlying mechanics of what is happening. Reading the recipe through is especially important if you’re a new cook. Process and technique matter and to successfully execute a dish, it’s important to know what to expect and not miss a step. There is nothing more frustrating than needing a dish to be ready in 30 minutes and realizing that something has to marinate or cool for an hour. Reading a recipe first all the way through will help you avoid a lot of frustration and make cooking a positive experience.
Half the battle of getting dinner on the table quickly is making sure you don’t have to go to the supermarket every other day. The best approach is to make a weekly plan of what you’re going to cook, consult your recipes and write a detailed shopping list. You can make your trip to the store as quick as possible if you organize your list by aisle. Try breaking it into these sections: produce, meat & seafood, dry goods, freezer, dairy, refrigerator, bakery and deli.
Right Size Pan
Don’t crowd the pan when sautéing. Be sure you can see the bottom of the pan between the pieces of food. Too much food will lower the temperature of the pan, creating a lot of steam, meaning you won’t get good browning. It’s also important to dry food before sautéing it and to make sure the pan is good and hot.
Cut everything the same size.
Knife skills are a big thing that people want to learn, but while the focus can be on fancy cuts or speed, the real mark of good knife skills is being able to reliably cut everything to the same size. Making a chicken stew? Cut the chicken breast into precisely-sized pieces so they cook at the same rate. Same goes for roasted vegetables. Practicing precision and evenness in your knife skills will get you farther than being able to dice an onion in 30 seconds.
Toast your spices…
When I sit down to choose a recipe, I think about not only flavor but texture. When I am looking to add some texture to a recipe, especially fall recipes, I love to use nuts. They are an easy way to add texture and complexity of flavor. However, nuts can get pricey, so it’s important to get the most out of them. Toasting nuts makes them nuttier, amplifies their natural flavor, and makes them crunchy.
A quick stint in a dry skillet over medium heat wakes dry spices up and releases their oils, which means your paprika will taste a lot more paprika-y. Use whole spices, watch the pan like a hawk, and stir constantly until the spices are fragrant, then transfer to a plate to cool before using.
…and your nuts and also your grains.
Get Those Hands In It.
Use your hands. Hands are extremely sensitive and sophisticated cooking tools. You can develop this sense of touch by paying attention to how different foods feel at different degrees of done, even as you’re checking them with a thermometer, a toothpick, or a knife. Meat, for example, goes from being very soft when it’s rare to quite firm when well done. Touch can also indicate when a cake is baked, if a dough is kneaded enough, and whether a peach is ripe.
Pay attention to how things smell.
I think that we all are pretty well acquainted with the smell of scorched cookies. But beyond that, really invest in your sense of smell as you cook. It’s not just about smelling burnt things; if you pay attention you can tell by smell when a stock is rich enough, or when the potatoes have browned enough in the oven.
Buy a new kitchen sponge.
Existential question time. If your sponge is filthy and smells, how can you expect it get your dishes clean?
Put the lid on the pot to make your water boil faster.
Seems obvious, but if you don’t know, now you know.
Dry your salad greens using a kitchen towel.
Salad spinners? So bulky and annoying. Instead, pile your just-washed greens into a clean dish towel, gather it by the ends, and swing that sucker around until your salad is dry (or your arm is tired).
HEAT / OIL
Heat is a critical part of cooking, and for the best results, make sure that the oil is hot when you add ingredients to saute, stir-fry, or fry. If you don’t, the food would just be sitting in oil rather than getting cooked in oil.
When you add the oil to the pan, tip the pan back & forth. You can tell the oil is hot when you see striations in it (like legs in a wine glass) and it shimmers. It is best to use oils with high smoke points, like avocado, coconut, or grape seed, for high-heat cooking.
Use the Power of Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are essential for making great-tasting food that’s healthy too. They let you create bright, aromatic, vibrant-tasting dishes without loading up on salt, sugar, butter or cream. So keep a well-organized array of dried herbs and spices, preferably close to your work space. Keep in mind that herbs and spices do lose potency the longer they sit on your shelves. After they’ve been there a year or two, replace them. And if you have space, plant an herb garden or, if you live in a colder climate, a small planter that you can bring inside in the winter.
Microfiber dish-drying mats are better than dish racks.
So is a decent dish towel. Who has space for a dish rack?
Dry your protein for a good sear
Pat your protein dry with a clean towel or paper towel before adding it to a hot skillet. If a protein is wet when added to a hot skillet, it will steam instead of sear. To get a nice crispy sear, it’s necessary to remove any moisture. Searing protein seals it and helps keep in all of those wonderful tasty juices.
A great Free Resource to learn cooking
I like to use this App For “Big Meals” (it’s Not Free)
Chefter — Culinary Guidance by Chefter
Chefter — Culinary Guidance by Chefter
Enjoy the Free Keywebco App For A To Z Daily
Originally published at writersthatinspire.com on September 23, 2018.
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