Whether you regularly whip up Michelin-worthy meals at the drop of a hat or your cooking skills are best described as “fine,” you can always benefit from the helpful little tricks of others. Here, 14 of our friends’, families’ and coworkers’ most-used cooking tips.
Never Try a New Recipe at a Dinner Party
There’s a time and a place to whip out that complicated coq au vin recipe you’ve been dying to try. A dinner party isn’t that time. With a new recipe, you’ll likely be chained to the kitchen the whole time, plus, when you’re trying something for the first time, there’s always the possibility that it could go horribly wrong. When cooking for a group, we always err on the side of tried-and-true crowd-pleasers.
Taste (and Season) As You Go
You do hours of prep work on an intricate dish, only to be totally disappointed once you taste the final product. Bummer. Instead of putting in all that effort only to be disappointed, taste while you cook. That way, you’ll realize sooner that the dish isn’t tasting how you’d like it to, and you can make all kinds of last-ditch efforts to save it. This doesn’t just work for bad-to-OK meals. Tasting midway through and realizing how perfect a dash of cayenne or a squirt of lemon juice would be can take a great dinner to legendary status.
Finish Pasta in the Pan
Plating pasta means tossing some onto a plate and finishing it with a nice dollop of sauce right on the middle, right? Wrong. Here’s how to take your carbs to the next level: On the stove there should be two pans, one with pasta and one with sauce. Cook the pasta to al dente and transfer it into the sauce. Then, add a little bit of pasta water (literally just the starchy water the pasta has been cooking in), which will help the sauce cling to the pasta while also keeping it the right consistency. Perfection.
Don't Be Afraid to Set Off the Smoke Alarm
In the pursuit of the perfect steak, you have to be OK with your kitchen getting a little smoky. That's because, to get the mouthwatering sear we're all after, the meat has to be dry and the pan should be pretty damn close to smoking hot. Trust us, it's worth a few seconds of a blaring alarm.
Salt Steak Like You're Salting Your Driveway
Most foods are ruined by too much salt. Steak is different. When it comes to seasoning your meat (before you cook it), more is more. Use a generous amount of coarse Kosher salt—more than you think you need. Since most cuts of steak are pretty thick, even though you're using a lot of salt, it's still only covering the surface.
A Fried Egg Makes (Just About) Everything Better
This one isn’t too complicated. Whether you’re making avocado toast, pizza, fried rice or a burger, the addition of a fried egg on top will not hurt your feelings. Trust us.
Read the Whole Recipe Before You Start Cooking
This one seems like a no-brainer, but we’ve definitely found ourselves in a situation where we assumed we knew all of the ingredients that went into chocolate chip cookies only to find out that we had about half the required amount of brown sugar. Ugh. To avoid a mid-cooking grocery-store trip, read the recipe from front to back—carefully—before you start.
Cook Grains in Double Batches
Prepping grains in mass quantities is less about taste than convenience. Rice, quinoa and even oatmeal last about a week in the fridge after being cooked. When we’re prepping any one of those, we double up our measurements and store the leftovers, which are then impossibly easy to use up throughout the week. Too tired to make dinner? Heat up some leftover rice from the fridge and toss an egg on top (remember?). Couldn’t be simpler.
Save Bacon Fat
So you fried up a pound of bacon for an indulgent (read: delicious) brunch. Great, just make sure you don’t throw out the grease in the pan. Instead, save it in the refrigerator or freezer (it technically lasts for up to a year, but should be used sooner than that to take full advantage of its flavor). Then, anytime you’re cooking something you typically prepare in oil, try cooking it in the bacon grease instead. You’ll never want to eat Brussels sprouts the old way again.
Don’t Always Rely on Salt
Don't Always Rely on Salt
You’ve probably heard that whenever a dish is lacking a little something-something, the best thing to do is toss in some salt. But, we have it on good authority that salt isn’t always the answer. When you’re tasting a dish at the end and you think it needs a little oomph, often it just needs a splash of acid (like lemon juice) to round out the flavor.
Take Care of Your Knives
You know the difference between a paring knife and a fillet knife, but do you know how to take care of them? Or, more importantly, how to use them? A set of good knives can be the difference between a stressful cooking experience and a great one. First, practice your knife skills. Look up tutorials on YouTube and practice chopping, slicing and julienne-ing. It’s amazing what you can do with your cook time when your prep time is shortened with solid knife skills. Then, once you’ve got your skills down pat, learn how to take care of your set. No one ever achieved kitchen greatness with a dull chef’s knife.
Think Beyond Low and Slow
The key to tender, flavorful barbecue and roasts? Cooking it on a low temperature for a long time. The same doesn't go for roasting veggies. For crispy, perfectly cooked butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and more, remember the magic number: 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Any lower, and you risk pulling a pan of blah carrots out of the oven. It might seem high, but to get the nice roasted flavor, you need high heat. And while we’re on the subject, stop crowding your veggies in the pan, which will also make them soggy.
Refrigerate Your Cookie Dough
You know how just about every cookie recipe suggests that you chill your dough in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, but oftentimes you don’t listen because you just want cookies now?! (Same.) Unfortunately, this step actually does make a difference. In addition to limiting how much the dough spreads while baking, chilling your dough intensifies the flavors and produces that perfect chewy, crispy texture we know and love.
Be Generous with Garlic
It won’t do your breath any favors, but never (ever) scrimp on garlic. In fact, we typically double the amount a recipe calls for. Apologies to anyone who was planning on kissing us.
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