Cooking may not be rocket science, but so many budding cooks make the simplest of mistakes that show up like a sore thumb when preparing and presenting a basic dish, from using the wrong knife, to cooking on the wrong heat.
We have discussed, in the past, the importance of using a good cooking kit and always buying the best ingredients that you can afford, but that still doesn’t mean you’ll become an instant Gordon Ramsay!
8 ways to improve your cooking
Salt is your best friend because it enhances the flavour of meat and vegetables. These days the salt police tend to wave their sticks around saying we all eat far too much. However, if you’re cooking with unprocessed food then be generous with it. Season as you go and remember to constantly taste your food. If you’ve recently eaten in a top-class restaurant you’ll notice that they rarely have salt and pepper mills on the table! But do make sure you use unrefined salt, and if we are getting particular then rock salt like Maldon Sea Salt is the best!
Keep it sharp.
A blunt knife is a dangerous knife, especially in the kitchen! Think about it; if you’re sawing away on a carrot with a dull edged blade then sooner or later, it’s going to slip and result in a nasty cut! So buy a good quality knife made of steel.
As chefs, we always sharpen our knives for a few seconds prior to using them, and that’s for good reason. Besides, what’s more satisfying than when your knife effortlessly glides through an onion or a slab of beef??
Get a good board.
I can’t be the only one who thinks that a heavy, solid wooden chopping board looks cool? A manly lump of refined wood makes the home chef look like he/she has some kind of authenticity and authority in the kitchen.
For extra street cred, make sure you place a small cloth underneath to stop it from slipping all over the place, and for heaven sake don’t cut up your children’s apples just after preparing a raw chicken! Make sure you turn it over and always scrub it clean ;)
Ever watch one of those cooking shows where the judges ream out the contestants for having a messy station. Chefs hate a messy kitchen. A messy kitchen normally leads to a messy dish. Contamination can also occur more easily in a chaotic atmosphere.
And really, who likes having to deal with a filthy kitchen after the meal has been cooked and enjoyed? Clean as you go.
Mise en place.
I know it’s a fancy term but it really means, “get everything in place” and be organized before starting to cook.
There’s nothing worse than starting a recipe, putting a few ingredients in the hot pan, then realizing you forgot to chop something up. You then have to resort to quickly washing it, haphazardly chopping the item and then turning back to the pan to see that the food already in pan has started to burn… so frustrating!
So take the extra couple minutes and have everything ready. It will make for a much happier, enjoyable cooking experience.
Trust your instinct.
I’m afraid to think how many hours I’ve spent reading about food. As much as I absolutely love and adore my large library of cookbooks and get super excited every time a food magazine gets delivered, they can also be a straightjacket in the kitchen.
No recipe is perfect for every person in every kitchen. So many factors can influence the outcome of a dish, even with an amazing recipe. For instance, exactly how hot is “medium heat”? How big is a large onion? A pinch of salt? Zeroing in on precise measurements, cooking times, and temperatures is quite difficult to get your head around. So, what’s a person to do? Taste. Trust your instincts. Watch and experience your food as it cooks. Use the recipe as a guideline, and not as an absolute rule.
Right heat and don’t overcrowd the pan.
Trying to fry some vegetables? Going for a high heat stir-fry? If you overcrowd the pan, you will end up steaming your ingredients instead.
Looking for a nice good sear on that meat? Stuffing that pan full will make its temperature drop fast, leading to grey-like matter instead of that golden-brown crust you’re trying to achieve.
So, make sure to choose the right size pan or cook in batches.
Make it pretty.
It doesn’t matter if you are dining at a Michelin star restaurant, your local pub, or enjoying a family dinner at home, we eat with our eyes first. Presentation matters.
You can easily add colour to your meal with relevant garnishes. For example, by adding a few chopped herbs and a swirl of cream to a basic soup will lift it to another level. Another restaurant trick is to build your plate up vertically. Height is impressive. You can make a simple mashed potato with grilled lamb chops look stylish by placing the spuds in the centre of the plate and then laying the chops on top, bone up, to resemble a crown – this might be a bit 1980’s but it definitely makes the presentation more fun :)