The best way to become a good home cook is to learn proper techniques and then to practice.
Learning some of the best secrets from professional chefs can really help, too. Here, for your cooking pleasure, are secrets from the pros that will help you avoid making five critical mistakes:
Read the recipe: Home cooks invariably make the mistake of reading the recipe as they go instead of reading it before they start. A quick read before you get caught up in the cooking will make it less likely that you'll add ingredients in the wrong order, leave something out or do anything else that may compromise your dish. Think of your recipe as an instruction manual for your meal, and your first instruction is to read the instructions.
Start in a hot pan: Unless your recipe gives you specific instructions to do otherwise, always give your pan time to heat up before adding any food. Heat encourages food to release whatever moisture it has. Adding food to a pan that's hot creates an instant seal around the food to keep all the moisture (and flavor) inside.
In a warm pan, your food will lose its moisture and you'll find your chicken breasts or mushrooms stewing in their own juices. This is not good. A hot pan should give you a sizzle when you add food to it. If you don't hear the sizzle, don't be afraid to pull the food out while you wait for the temperature to rise.
Don't overtend the food: Once you add the food to the pan, put the
This doesn't mean you should leave the room. You still need to watch the food, but constant flipping, turning, stirring or other motions prevent the food from cooking properly unless the recipe specifically calls for constant stirring. By overtending, you're extending the cooking time, and you run the risk of altering the food's texture and color by moving it around too much.
Taste before you serve: Tasting as you go is the most important part of cooking. If you season and taste as you go, your food will taste better. Always do a final taste just before serving to ensure your seasonings are still right on.
Use common sense: Cooking is not an exact science. Unless you're baking, which is an exact science, you have to find a balance between your recipe and reality. Oven temperatures vary, or your electric cooktop may not heat your saute pan as quickly or evenly as the gas range used by the recipe writer. Check your food periodically. If it is browning faster than the recipe indicates, turn it. Then, lower the heat. Recipe writers cannot anticipate every situation. They rely on good cooks to use their common sense to interpret and implement recipes.
Cooking is an art that requires practice, common sense and skill. The more you cook at home, the better you'll get and the more money you'll save.
Write to mary@everydaycheap skate.com or Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.