When you think about making your meals taste better, or becoming a better cook, what comes to mind? Do you think of luxury ingredients like truffle-infused oil or an imported cheese? Or do you wish you could spend a few weeks at a French culinary school learning from the best? Believe it or not, you do not have to be a culinary school graduate to be a great at-home cook, and while many of us claim not to have the most advanced abilities, there are many easy and small things you can do to get better, more professional results, every time.
Always start with the best fresh ingredients
In today’s world of oversized grocery stores that offer every ingredient under the sun, it can be easy to reach for ingredients simply based on convenience. Despite the ‘ease’ of using pre-packaged ingredients, using fresh is always is best. Shopping at farmers markets are a great way to get the best flavors, but while that isn’t always possible, shredding your own cheese or using fresh herbs as opposed to dried can elevate your dishes each and every time.
Ditch the table salt and switch to kosher or sea salt
Using kosher or sea salt as opposed to table salt can add a new depth of flavors to your dishes. Salting throughout your cooking experience seasons your food to elevate the layers of flavors in each meal. Using little or no salt in your cooking often results in food that is tasteless and flat. Keep in mind that a recipe’s ingredients, as well as your palate, may require some adjustments to what is written in a recipe.
Hone in on your knife skills
Developing good knife skills can not only help you become more efficient, but can also help ensure that all of your ingredients cook at the same rate. Making chicken stew? Cut the chicken breast into precisely-sized pieces, as well as the roasted vegetables. Practicing precision and evenness more than speed or fancy cuts will get your further than being able to dice an onion in 30 seconds.
Say no to bulk sized spices
Spices have their purpose – to make food taste better! Often, however, spices hit their expiration rates faster than we can use them. You will know this is occurring when colors begin to dull and flavors become flat. Whether it’s cinnamon, cloves, cumin or coriander, purchase spices as you need them, and in the smallest quantity available, unless you use them frequently, to ensure your dried spices are packing the most punch.
Be cautious of overcooking
Overcooked vegetables become mushy and flavorless, overcooked meat is tough and dry, overcooked grains are soggy and fall apart. In other words, overcooked food is food that you do not want to eat. Keep in mind that you can always cook food more but can never cook it less. Learn to take your food off of the heat just before it’s done. The remaining heat will finish the cooking process and give you foods that are perfectly cooked every time.
Go against the recipe
From cookbooks to magazines, internet food sites and blogs there are so many sources of inspiration for your meal planning. It can be easy to fall into the trap of printing recipes, collecting cookbooks and the like, but no recipe is perfect for every person in every kitchen. So many factors can influence the outcome of a dish. For instance, what is the exact temperature for medium-high heat? What if the author’s stove runs hotter than yours? The easiest way to bridge the gap is to taste your food as you go using the recipe as a guide, not a rule. The only exception is when it comes to baking — always be as precise as possible when baking!
Don’t crowd the pan
Trying to sauté some vegetables or brown your favorite steak? Overcrowding your pan will often result in steaming your ingredients. The more items in your pan, the harder it is for your pan to stay at its true temperature. Keep all ingredients in one breathable layer. Adjust your pan size accordingly or cook in batches to ensure everything cooks the way that it’s intended to.