We asked the chef who gave us excellent cooking tips last week to give us more tips and maybe more in the future.
1-5 Great Cooking Tips
01. Food continues cooking after you take it off the heat. Your steaks will continue to cook for a couple of minutes after you take them off the grill. Your turkey will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven. Those eggs you boiled will end up hard boiled if you don’t cool them off. Remember to let your food rest a couple of minutes. It will taste better.
02. SALT AND PEPPER. I honestly don’t know how so many people can cook without salt and pepper. Whenever anything or anyone says season the food, only use salt and pepper. I usually use Kosher Salt (in those boxes. I like the texture) and freshly ground pepper. White, green, red and black peppers are just varying degrees of ripeness or the peppercorn fruit. PROTIP- White pepper powder cauterizes wounds without any burning or stinging.
03. Match flavors. If you’re cooking something with bacon, use the bacon fat to saute your vegetables. Cook a steak with butter. Use white wine if the food you’re cooking is light in color. Use red wine if the food is dark in color. Don’t add chicken stock to a beef based dish. (There are, or course, some exceptions to this rule. That is for a later time though…)
04. Learn some basic flavor combinations. A good way to figure this out is to read the history of the spice trade. That way you will know what spices and flavors go with what. A few examples
- French– lemon + parsley; and/or carrots, onions, celery. Tarragon, chervil, sage, herbs de provence.
- Italian– tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, hot peppers, oregano, bay leaves.
- Mexican– Lime + Cilantro, coriander, cumin, hot peppers.
- Thai– Lime, Mint, Cilantro, shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, galangal, Thai basil, green pepper.
- Indian. List of Indian Spices
05. Chop with the rear part of the blade, not the tip, in a rolling motion. Then FLIP THE KNIFE OVER and use the back of it to shove stuff into a pot, not the sharp side.
6-10 Great Cooking Tips
06. The Roux is probably one of the most useful things in cooking. It’s used as base for sauces. Heat up a few tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and stir in an equal amount of flour. Once it is thick and frothy you can add a liquid of your choice for the base of your sauce (milk or chicken stock are my favorites) add as much as necessary to reach your desired consistency. Add spices or melt cheese to make a great cheese sauce.
07. Garlic makes everything better.
08. When making pork chops cut the ribbon of fat so that it is in pieces instead of one long piece. It prevents the chop from curling in the pan and cooking unevenly.
09. Use weight, not volume to measure ingredients for baking.
10. Always, ALWAYS taste your food while cooking. I always have like 5 spoons beside me while cooking. This allows you to accurately adjust seasoning, flavors, and cooking time. It is tough at first to know what to adjust, but you get better at it with time and it will really improve the quality of food you make (especially over-salting). To help with knowing what to adjust here is my tip: Smell the seasoning you want to add while tasting. It’s the opposite effect of plugging your nose so you don’t taste things. The flavors will combine and you’ll know if the seasoning is going to work before adding it.
11-15 Great Cooking Tips
11. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp knives. Sharp knives require less effort to cut. When you apply more pressure to cut, the stability of what’s being cut is lessened, and could cause the item and knife to slip, causing you to cut yourself. ALSO REMEMBER – a falling knife has no handle. Don’t learn this one the hard way.
12. Whatever you’re sautéing, don’t crowd the pan. Get a bigger pan or cook in batches but the reason your potatoes/veggies/etc. aren’t getting brown and crispy is because they’re drowning in their own juice.
13. Pay attention to plating. A nice, clean, warm plate can make the difference between an OK meal, and a great meal. Most restaurants I’ve worked in aren’t serving anything special, they just serve it in a way that makes it look special. If you treat your homemade stuff like it was in a five-star restaurant, you can make Hamburger Helper taste like scratch-made casserole.
14. Read recipes completely, and prepare before starting. Don’t start cooking until your mise en place is completely squared away. Get out ever knife, tool, and pan you will need. Measure out all of your ingredients, and put all of them on the counter next to your stove. When you are on step 1 of your recipe, you should know what steps 2 and 3 are. With most recipes, you don’t have time to go back to the cookbook to double-check what you’re doing while your chicken dries up into leathery bits in the pan. Plan ahead, and make sure you’re ready to finish your dish before you start it.
15. A good sauce can save almost anything. Learn how to cook at least three sauces from memory with every day ingredients. A red wine sauce (cup or so of red wine, some butter, salt, onions and pepper) can turn any cheap steak into a great meal. Simple marinara can be made for under $10 bucks, and is just as good as the $20 pasta you get at Maggiano’s. Find some recipes you like, and memorize them.
16-20 Great Cooking Tips
16. If making a grilled cheese, butter your bread with softened butter, not melted butter. The fat solids emulsified in the butter when sufficiently toasted with the bread makes for much better flavor. Also, make sure all ingredients in your grilled cheese is room temp before cooking. Cheese will be less likely to separate and the sandwich itself will cook more evenly.
17. You can make popcorn in the microwave with just kernels, a bowl, olive oil, salt, and plastic wrap. It is way healthier than bags, cheaper, and the oil makes it super crunchy. Place kernels in bowl. Drizzle half a teaspoon of oil on the kernels and add a pinch of fine salt. Mix. Cover top of bowl with plastic wrap. Poke a couple of small holes with your fingers. Cook on high for 1.5 minutes.
18. When cooking pancakes, heat the pan until its hot enough where if you add a drop of water it immediately boils. Roughly 350 F.
19. If boiling vegetables or pasta, make sure to salt the water. It makes the pasta taste better and the vegetables brighter in color. Cook both these slightly underdone because carryover cooking occurs even after taking it off the heat.
20. Never, ever wash your pasta under cold tap water after straining it. It will taste horrible and lose its texture, even if using it for pasta salad. If you need your pasta to cool, spread on a baking sheet. You can use a drizzle of oil so it won’t stick together after cooling.
21-25 Great Cooking Tips
21. Brussels sprouts need to be roasted for at least 20 minutes to evaporate off the chemical that makes them taste bitter and “cabbage-y”.
22. Sprinkling pepper onto strawberries makes them taste like strawberry-flavored candy.
23. For boiling/blanching anything, you want to use as much water as you can get away with, and salt the water. Otherwise, when you put the food in the water, the temperature of the water will drop too much, and the food will not boil correctly.
24. You can use a little baking soda to help caramelize things.
25. When you chop juicy vegetables for a salad (tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, etc.), salt them before adding them to the salad, it will brighten up the flavor of the whole salad without making it “salty”.
26-30 Great Cooking Tips
26. Here’s the skinny on getting you perfect steakhouse quality steaks at home:
- Buy a thick cut of meat like a porterhouse. If its more than 2″ thick it’s usually better. Look for a lot of marbling (little white lines of fat through the meat). The more the better.
- Stick the meat unwrapped on a rack in the fridge overnight (watch out for cross-contamination! make sure your fridge is clean). This ages the meat and helps dry it out. Then like an hour before you cook take it out of the fridge, pat it down with paper towels, and leave it out until your ready to season.
- Preheat your oven to really hot, like 500F, and stick your (oven safe!) pan in there. That will ensure your pan is super hot and get a sear on your meat quickly.
- Season both sides of the steak with coarse salt and a teaspoon of oil. I find peanut oil to be better than olive oil but it doesn’t really make much difference.
- Take the hot pan out of the oven, place it on the stovetop with the stovetop on full heat, and sear the steak for 2 min on both sides. Then cut off the stovetop, stick about three tablespoons of room temperature butter and three sprigs of fresh rosemary on top of the steak and put the steak in the oven.
- After about 3 minutes, open the oven (there will be lots of smoke, run your fan), and flip the steak. 2 or three more minutes, pull it out. If you like it more on the well done side, leave it a little longer. Do not leave it for more than like 5 minutes because you might as well just make hamburgers. Take it off the heat. Using a wooden spoon or large soup spoon tilt the pan and repeatedly spoon the butter and juices onto the steak. Baste in all its glory.
- Let the meat rest for about five minutes. I use that time to make the plate prettified. Mashed potatoes or cheesy grits on the bottom. Brussels sprouts on the side. Maybe some good goat cheese on top of the steak. This method is guaranteed to produce a bomb diggity steak. It’s really high-heat and ingredient driven though, so be careful, and spend that extra $5 on the good cut of meat.
27. Truffle oil is fake, but adds amazing richness to starches and meats. Use sparingly.
28. Making your own salad dressing. It is easy. Combine some combination of garlic, shallot, onion, mustard, lemon juice, wine vinegar, herbs in a bowl or jar. Then take the oil of your choice and add it in a slow stream while you whisk the bowl until it is all blended together. Taste, and add salt and pepper. If you’re using a jar, it’s even easier, just put the top on the jar and shake the whole thing up.
29. All grains should be cooked in stock instead of water, if possible – even vegetable stock will add richness and flavor. Always use low-sodium stock, as it makes it easier to control the flavor.
30. Don’t discount a good stock. Every time I cook something I save the bones to use for stock. Basic stock is: Water, Carrots, Celery, Onions, bones. Feel free to add a little something else, but never salt or pepper because you don’t want a stock to add any saltiness to your meal.