With so many of us stuck at home much of the time, now is an excellent time to explore new hobbies and build new sets of skills. Cooking is a great example that comes to mind. It’s not only a worthwhile hobby, but it can allow you to stretch your budget and take your home-cooked meals to the next level.
Many of the pros are offering cooking classes online so you can learn the ins and outs of better cooking from home. One way to improve your skills is by equipping yourself with some useful pro tips. Add these maxims to your culinary repertoire to flavour your future dishes with some creative zest:
- Master your mise en place
As every professional chef knows, an organized kitchen is essential. Mise en place is an effective rule to live by to help you stay organized. It basically means “everything in its place.”Before you start cooking, set your cooking station ahead of time. Have all your ingredients measured, cut, and peeled and all in reach, make sure your pans are greased, and check that the oven is preheated. A clean and orderly kitchen is a well-oiled machine. Getting all the prep work out of the way makes sure you know where the ingredients are exactly when you need them.
- Chill before grating or slicing
If you’ve ever had difficulty cutting soft or slippery items (e.g. cheese or raw bacon), here’s a tip to make your efforts a little easier. Line cooks like to toss those items in the freezer for a while before grating to firm them up first. You don’t have to wait until it’s frozen; 10 minutes is typically enough. Keep this cooking technique in mind the next time you have to grate some cheese or thinly dice some raw meat.
- Skip the nonstick pans
Nonstick pans are a convenient tool when you’re trying to make cleaning easier, but other varieties, like cast iron pans, can be an asset when you’re trying out new dishes.Nonstick pans generate heat differently which can get in the way when you’re trying to make a crust on your dishes (think meat or fish). The nonstick coating acts as a barrier between the heat and the food, which can prevent it from developing a rich, crispy texture on certain dishes. Nonstick pans still have their uses though. Use them to cook pancakes, eggs, and French toast.
- Get the most use out of your knife
A sharp knife is one of the most essential tools any cooking master has in their arsenal. Keeping your knife sharp makes cutting far easier and safer than it otherwise would be.Use good knife maintenance practices to keep your knife (and yourself) safe. Most knife kits come with a honing steel (that iron rod you’ve seen chefs use with their knives). Before every use, hone the knife by gliding it at a 20° angle on both sides to keep it sharp and prevent damage. Always tuck your fingers in on your non-dominant hand and guide the knife with your upper knuckles. For higher control over the knife, pinch the bottom of the blade between your thumb and the side of your forefinger. Then grip your middle, ring, and pinky fingers around the handle for support.
- Save your vegetable scraps
One common rookie mistake is tossing the unused veggies into the compost pile. According to the pros, these scraps still have their uses that make them worth keeping. Vegetable scraps are just the right ingredients to make stock for your next cooking project. Onion ends, carrot butts, celery leaves, and parsley stems can easily make great stock for soups and sauces.To make your stock:
Pour water on the scraps until they’re covered completely, then simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain the mixture, and you’ve got some nice stock you can store until you need it. You can also use this technique on other leftovers (like meats) to widen your collection of homemade stock and ultimately, your culinary repertoire.
- Add pasta to the sauce at the last minute
There’s a way to get that flavourful, restaurant-quality pasta — and it’s a simple technique you can do at home. The trick is to combine the pasta and the sauce just before the sauce is done cooking. During those last few minutes the noodles get a chance to absorb the flavour. It also encourages the sauce to stick to the noodles better, improving the taste in each bite.If the sauce turns out a little too thick for your tastes, there’s another cooking expert trick that can help get the right consistency. Add some of the leftover pasta water to the mix until you get the thickness you want.
- Use your olive oil right
Olive oil is a versatile ingredient and can be used for more than just frying. Add a dollop of olive oil to your pasta, pizza, fish, and meat dishes to kick things up a notch. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on your dishes to enhance the taste, add a kick, and coat dishes with a silky finish to make it a feast for the eyes.
- Spice things up with sugar
Most people think of sugar as something used for making homemade baked goods and candy. However, sugar is a more versatile ingredient than many people give it credit for.Sugar makes a great seasoning for dishes with acidic components like tomatoes. It counteracts natural sourness, giving these types of dishes a bolder, richer taste. Sugar can also make slightly out-of-season tomatoes taste fresh — a great cooking tip for salvaging old stock and getting a little more out of them.
- Salt as you go
Salt and other seasonings are key to flavourful, mouthwatering dishes. A good rule of thumb is to salt and season continuously — and a little at a time — as you cook. Otherwise, you will oversalt or overseason the dishes. Doing it this way helps make sure that every bite of the final dish is properly layered and seasoned.
- Taste your food as you go
Taste the dish at every stage of the cooking process so your dishes come out tasting like a dream. Ascertain how much of each seasoning you need beforehand. As you begin layering flavours, adjust the amount of seasoning you place accordingly — as you cook, you may find the dish needing more or less than you intended. In the case of raw meat (e.g. meatballs), cook a small piece to test before cooking an entire batch to make sure you’ve seasoned it properly.
Learning to cook like a pro can be a challenge, but it’s one that can pay off in all the right ways. Complement your new cooking skills with your ability to design your own tablescapes to make homemade meals a feast for all the senses.
At elle cuisine, we’re ready, willing, and able to provide high-quality, restaurant-calibre food to your home when you need it. When you need catering for special events, we’re here to offer quality food and atmosphere to make the day a memorable one. Call us now at 647.430.3553 for the exceptional cuisine and service you need.