Found on AskReddit, the following question was posed to the professionals—chefs, sous chefs, line cooks: What tricks and conventions do you use every day that amateur home cooks can benefit from?
The answers came flowing in. So, tune in below for hacks and wisdom from the professionals
Former Executive Chef, Culinary School Grad, Catering Chef and Private Chef here. This is my first Reddit post. I have been lurking for a couple of years, but never felt compelled to post anything until now.
1) Always taste. Taste everything, every time you add any new ingredient. Taste every step, taste before you serve it. Just taste!
2) Avoid using canned items. If you can’t get fresh, use frozen.
3) Learn to use a knife. Ideally, learn to use a French chef’s knife, but if Asian is more your style, just make sure you learn to use it properly. Any chef worthy of the title can do anything that a kitchen gadget can with a knife or whisk.
4) Taste new ingredients. You know that item in the grocery store that you are afraid to try? The one that you know nothing about? Buy it, try it. The only way to learn new ingredients is to use them. Try it raw then try it cooked. Learn the flavor, the texture, etc.
5) For the best quality meals, use fresh and local ingredients. The fresher the ingredient, the better the result. You should also try to cook seasonally. I only use tomatoes when they are in season. When you buy ingredients in season, they are cheaper and taste much better.
7) If you are worried about cooking from scratch, then start from a box, then add something. You’d be surprised at how much a little onion, garlic or herbs will increase the taste of a pre-made dish. Once you get comfortable with adding your own flavors to something, it becomes easier to make something of your very own from scratch.
8) Always write a recipe for something when you try something new. If it turns out great, it’s a good thing to have something to remember how you did it.
9) MISE EN PLACE! The term just means “everything in its place”. This simply means to have all ingredients measured out, all utensils you need, etc. Basically, everything you need to complete the recipe, dinner, whatever. Get it ready before you begin to cook. More often than not, a dish is burned because somebody didn’t have everything ready before they started cooking.
10) Experiment. If you don’t know how to cook something, try it. Don’t be afraid. We have all made horrible dishes before we learned how to do it right. Want to try a new flavor combination? Do it. You never know what flavors will work out.
11) You should also buy a good knife if you can. It doesn’t have to be expensive (I prefer Kasumi or Shun). Victorinox is a great brand that is very inexpensive. Great quality, keeps a sharp edge and the grips are very good.
Don’t let anything go to waste. Carrot tops, onion stem ends and other vegetal “garbage” can be accumulated in a bag in the freezer to be used in stocks. Likewise, chicken bones can be collected from plates after meals for the same purpose.
Homemade stock is not only infinitely cheaper than store-bought. It adds a depth of flavor to soups, stews and sauces that you just can’t buy. The secret ingredient really is love.
If you’re cutting a lot of tomatoes, use a cutting board with a trough. Collect the juice that weeps out and pour it into an ice cube tray. Freeze ’em for when you need them to add some tomato flavor sauces, soups, etc. This works for pretty much any fruits and vegetables that weep when cutting. You paid for that juice, so you might as well use it, and it’s usually highly flavorful.
When chopping garlic, dice it up really finely with your knife, then sprinkle some salt on it and use the flat of your knife to grind the salt into the garlic. This helps to further mince the garlic, as well as to season it and bring out the flavor more. Remember this means you need less salt in your dish.
There is a far easier (safer?) way to dice an onion. Start by cutting the onion in half, from root to top. The then cut 1/2 inch off the top, and peel. Then, instead of cutting horizontally through the onion as you did in step two, cut vertically. Position your knife near one edge, and plunge the tip into the onion near the roots (but don’t cut through them), and cut all the way through to the top. Continue across the onion until you reach the other side. Then rotate 90 degrees, and cut vertically across your onion from top to root. No precarious knife skills needed, and a fast dice every time.
Next time you want to make mashed potatoes bake WHOLE potatoes on a bed of salt on a baking sheet. Poke a few holes and cook until you can easily pierce them with a knife. Peel them (it should be very easy) and SAVE THE SKINS.
In a pot, fry the skins in some butter for about 2 minutes over medium heat. Add about 1/2 cup of milk and let it get warm with the potato skins still in it. Strain the milk through a strainer, add it to your cooked potatoes, add salt and paper and whip to your preferred consistency.
It’s a little more work than normal but I promise it will be the best potatoes you’ve ever had. Also, you can save the salt for future uses—no need to throw it out.
Never fry bacon, bake it in the oven on a baking pan. Less splatter, less raw ends and crumbly middles, less work.
When handling habanero or other extremely hot peppers, I coat my hands in a teaspoon of olive oil before finely dicing the peppers. Get the oil thoroughly under and around fingernails. After handing natures napalm with oily hands I find that the hot stuff washes off far more easily with some dish detergent.
Culinary School Grad/Line Cook(Kitchen Supervisor) here.
First and foremost would be having a good handle on how to care and use a French knife properly. My biggest complaint when it comes to home cooking is most people have no respect for the most valuable tool in our arsenal.
Having a basic understanding of flavor composition is also very handy. Do yourself a favor and find a website or book. Having an understanding of what flavors work and what drinks pair well with foods is a great if you’re looking to impress. It helps me immensely when looking to whip up something new or when I’m sorting through leftovers to make a soup.
Respect the Alliums. That’s your garlic, onion and leeks. There is a reason that they are the basis for so many cultural foods, THEY’RE FANTASTIC. Nuff Said.
Buy yourself some non-iodized salt and a pepper cracker.
Take special care to prepare your cooking equipment. If it’s pregreasing pans or using an onion Piquette on a grill. The better you care for equipment, the better it takes care of you.
I know it’s been said before, but cook with a plan and MISE EN PLACE!
Most importantly, you have to have the ability to have fun and enjoy creating dishes. Don’t be afraid of failure because that’s the process of learning to cook. I can’t begin to count the number of people who are afraid to cook before they’ve tried it.
Buy cast iron, used from an antique store, if possible. Not the expensive enameled stuff but, rather, the old-school raw black stuff. If you burn something in them, it’s almost a good thing. They work on the stove; they work in the oven. They are the original non-stick. They’re vastly cheaper than all those aluminum or anodized sets that burn your food.
To cite Bourdain: “… if you have any doubt about which will break first, the pan or your head, then the pan isn’t heavy enough.”
Cast iron. The end.
Have a very good sense of flavor. This can be classified into: 1. The meaty one—egg meat, fish, mushrooms, cheese, soya, etc. 2. The seasoning— basic tastes like sweet, salt, sour. 3. The fresh parts—lettuce, cucumber, etc. 4. Spices—ginger, garlic, lemongrass, anything else.
A good dish is something that has a balance of these 4 flavors, therefore, when you list down ingredients, try to classify them into these 4 categories. When thinking of a new creative dish, try to think in your head how these classifications could combine.
Surprised this hasn’t been mentioned… Changed my life. HEAT THE PLATES.
Easiest tip you’ll ever get—helps amateurs and pros alike. Helps scrambled eggs and filet alike.
Thin smear of mayo on a steak + hot pan = rare steak with a crust.