If you want to become a better cook, you have to learn how to work outside of recipes.
You have to learn techniques that will transform your dishes from good to great.
These techniques are the basics, the foundation of cooking. You don’t have to learn the 5 French sauces or complex French techniques.
But if you want to be a good home cook, you HAVE to learn how to salt your foods properly, how to use heat (whether your oven, stovetop or grill) to bring out the best flavors out of simple ingredients, and also how to use aromatics, use spices and herbs, acid and umami to enhance the flavor of your food. But first, you have to master learning to pay attention. Without that, your life in the kitchen will never improve.
You also need to learn how to compose a basic dish, like a soup or stir fry, or even a quick sauce, without a recipe. Once you understand all the elements, it becomes much easier.
There are 6 steps to learn to become a better home cook. Note that this can take a lifetime to master. But building a solid foundation will make you a much better cook from the start. In this series we’ll talk about a different step in depth each week.
Become a Better Home Cook – Step 1:
Also known as being connected to the process. Staying mindful. While this may seem simple, this step is what makes or breaks your food. Leave a piece of fish too long in the oven? It dries out. Forget a piece of garlic toast under the broiler 15 seconds too long? It’s burnt. Take a phone call while you’re cooking pasta, and forget to drain it in time? Mush.
If you want to be a good cook, you HAVE pay attention to what you’re doing. You need to be connected to your sense of smell, sight, hearing, and taste. If one of these is poor, you can compensate with the other.
But you can’t be texting or trying to do a million things at the same time if you want good results. You have to be present and listen, smell and have some patience for your ingredients for the food to taste good.
That’s not to say you can’t make good food fast, but you have to be able to pay attention to what the food is telling you.
Tips to become a better home cook :
- Timers are guidelines. Use them. But never substitute a timer for your own judgement. Taste the food to make sure it’s ready. Check the before the timer is up. Even if you don’t quite know what to look for, you’ll learn to see the process of a piece of fish cooking, or of whatever ingredient, and watch and feel it transform.
- Feel your food. Touch a piece of steak when it’s raw. Touch the same steak after 2 minutes in the pan. Repeat. Eventually you’ll get a better feel for what’s cooked, and what isn’t.
- Taste as you go. One of the major things you learn in cooking school is to TASTE. How do you know if something tastes bland, too spicy, overly acidic, etc? How can you truly understand how ingredients transform a dish if you don’t taste along the way? Even if you’re not sure how to fix a dish (yet) tasting will help you understand the process. Eventually you’ll know when you need a pinch of salt, a squeeze of lemon or a different technique altogether.
Understanding how to tell when your food is ready and what you can do to improve a dish takes more than paying attention. We’ll delve into this in this series in the following weeks.
But one thing is for sure: Your food will never be good if you can’t be present in the kitchen.
So get off your phone, take 30 minutes to stay in tune with dinner, and you’ll have a much better meal on the table.