From My Kitchen Rules to Masterchef, we’re surrounded by great cooking most of the year. Rather than shy away from all the new terminology and ingredients, why not get in on the action?
Here are 11 home cooking tips that will take your skills from apprentice to head chef.
Keep the freezer stocked with veggies
Picture this; you’re almost done with your Thai green curry only to find you haven’t got any broccoli! You could head down to the shops or you could head to your trusty freezer. Keeping a freezer full of common veggies will mean less shopping for you, less fresh food being wasted and research shows they’re just as nutritious as the fresh varieties. They’re also the perfect way to bulk up a meal if you find out there’ll be extra eaters last minute.
Colour-code your chopping boards
More complex recipes call for more ingredients. Take a leaf out of the chef’s books and use a different coloured chopping board for different ingredients. This way you can swap between prepping meats, slicing veggies and mincing herbs for a marinade without the washing breaks between. Find your own set here.
Less is more
You can always add more but it’s very difficult to remove flavours from a dish once it’s in. Take a gentle hand when adding spices you’re unsure about and taste until you get the right ratios. Or follow recipe measurements carefully for the best results. If you’ve made a mistake; use sugar to balance out bitterness, vinegar to fix sweetness and water to dilute a strong sauce.
Taste as often as you can
It’s no use tasting your dish in the last few moments only to discover it’s awful. Taste as you cook, ideally after each new addition. But it’s not about filling up while you cook. It’s just about making sure your end product is going to be the best. As Gordon Ramsay tweeted you can’t trust a fat chef because you know they’ve eaten all the best bits.
Cook smarter, not harder
Technology is a wonderful thing. You should try it. There’s no advantage to chopping herbs by hand over a food processor, except for time saved. Skip the hard work and rely on kitchen gadgets to speed up your cooking. Hopefully it will mean you are motivated to try more complex and ingredient-heavy recipes. Shop online for the best prices on kitchen appliances.
Don’t be afraid to try (or fail)
Love a recipe you’ve seen on TV? Even if it seems 10 steps ahead of you now, give it a go. If Bridget Jones can smile through a blue soup dinner party then you can live with your cooking failures. More likely, you’re cutting your skills short and everything will turn out tasty.
Follow recipes to a tee
Cooking is just science you can eat. If you follow a recipe to the letter you’re almost guaranteed something delicious. Practice a recipe that works for you until you’re a master, only then is it worth getting the creative juices going.
Always use a sharp knife
The sharper the knife the scarier it is to most home cooks but this is one of the biggest misconceptions around. One of the first things you learn in cooking school is to never use a blunt knife because it’s unsafe. How can a sharp blade possibly be safer? It will cut through even the toughest of vegetables or meats in one sweep. Whereas a dull blade is more likely to slide around and end up in knicked fingers.
Keep a glossary on hand
Not sure of the difference between a mise en place and a mirepoix? You’re not the only one. Cooking has its own language and you need a vocab sheet. As you come across new cooking terms – from bechamel to saute – write their definitions on a sheet and keep it in your kitchen. Save yourself time googling every time you try a new recipe and check your glossary instead.
Defrost meat completely
Meat that’s still frozen is going to cook at different rates (thawed outside vs. chilled inside) and can easily lead to drying out your dish. If you know you’ll be cooking it tomorrow place it in the fridge overnight. If it’s last minute submerge your meat in a sink of piping hot water. It will safely defrost in around 20-30 minutes.
Master one skill at a time
It takes an organised individual and skilled cook to have the stove, oven and deep fryer going at once. Before you start multi-tasking make sure you’re very familiar with each cooking method and appliance. Spend time solely on stove cooking until you could do it while watching TV. Once you’ve mastered one you can feel confident in your ability to manage a few methods at once without burning, crying or setting any fires.
Julia Hammond is a Melbourne-based freelance writer who has worked with major brands and blogs from The Urban List to MyDeal.com.au. You can find her online at LeftHandScribbler.com.