Home cooking has never been more popular, and making your favourite meals is a cheaper, healthier alternative to eating out. Cooking is a skill and one that requires plenty of practice to perfect. Even if you are not going to be the next Gordon Ramsey, it is always worth working on your abilities in the kitchen, not least because the rewards are virtually immediate. We cover specific cooking tips extensively here on the site, but it is important not to overlook the basic fundamentals that can make anyone a better chef regardless of the meal involved. Therefore, we have pulled together the top 10 tips that we feel everyone with ambitions to impress in the kitchen need to know.
1. Go All Out on Browning Meat
Many recipes will suggest browning meat prior to adding it into other ingredients or cookware. When it says to do so, really do it and make sure that meat is properly brown before you even think about transferring it elsewhere. The colour may be in the name, but it is the taste that matters and searing your meat over a good heat will add a more savoury tone to the overall dish. Bigger pans are better here too, as you can reach a point where the meat starts boiling rather than searing, especially in juicier cuts.
2. Be Patient when Softening Onions
Many recipes call for the ingredients to be softened beforehand, especially vegetables. Onions are the most common, but this can also apply to carrots, tomatoes or anything else along these lines. Most recipes say to soften the vegetables for a couple of minutes – they’re lying. A couple of minutes frying will do the job, but not a good one. Time permitting, you should allow up to half an hour for the vegetables to truly soften in the pan.
3. If in Doubt with Stock, Use Chicken
Assuming you are not cooking for vegetarians or vegans, any recipe that uses stock but does not specify which is best served with the chicken variety. The flavour is not as intense as in vegetable, beef and fish stocks, which are generally chosen to complement other strong tastes within the dish. Chicken is more neutral, and when the stock is mainly there for moisture, you cannot go wrong.
4. Think Twice about Peeling Potatoes
Most recipes that use potatoes require the potatoes in question to have been peeled beforehand. While this is often down to personal preference, many cooks advocate going no further than cutting off the bits that look a bit dodgy. The skin is the most flavoursome part of the potato in the eyes of many, and it is worth considering keeping it around for an extra kick in your dish.
5. Sogginess is your Enemy
No matter what you are cooking, unless it is explicitly designed to be wet, like soup, you want a dry finish. This is a major consideration when using pastry bases. Often, spooning on the fillings and toppings prior to cooking will result in a soggy finish at the bottom of the dish. This can be avoided by part-cooking the pastry beforehand to keep it solid and dry while the ingredients set.
6. Different Meats suit Different Purposes
When following a recipe, it is not unreasonable to expect the recipe in question to stipulate the kind of meat used. However, there are few more satisfying achievements as an amateur cook than taking a recipe and making it your own. Get used to what works well with other ingredients and in certain cooking techniques and go for the best cuts possible. If slow cooking, oxtail is actually a better cut of beef than many others due to how it reacts to the cooking process. The perfect substitutions come with experience, but it is never too soon to start trying.
7. Don’t Make Vanilla a Crux
Open a cookbook to a recipe for anything sweet, and the chances are that vanilla will be in the recipe. This leads to 2 issues that can hold you back in the kitchen. First, vanilla is not the only sweet spice in existence, and you can put a personalised touch to a recipe by swapping it out for cinnamon or nutmeg, among others. Secondly, some dishes are simply better without that hint of vanilla. If you are using it, then you are probably using sugar too, and there is rarely a need to go overboard on sweetness.
8. Change Up your Sugar Choice
Sticking with the sweet theme, there are more options out there than just plain, white sugar. Such is the prevalence of this type of sugar in recipes that some tastes would consider it bland. That makes for the perfect opportunity to change things up, and brown sugar, cane sugar and pearl sugar are just some of the sweet treats that can make any dessert recipe your own when used appropriately.
9. Oven Temperatures are a Guide
When it all comes down to it, when you set your oven to a certain temperature and leave something in there for a set amount of time, the result is not that the food was cooked at precisely that temperature for that long. If anything, the temperature settings on ovens are guides rather than gospel, and you have a degree of flexibility. This is particularly handy when cooking various dishes at the same time that do not have identical requirements. If it comes out and looks, smells and tastes good, the temperature does not really matter.
10. Serving Temperatures Do Matter
If you have invested in a kitchen thermometer and are desperate for something worthwhile to measure, then check your food when it hits the plate. Some dishes are best when straight out of the oven, while others are better warm or even tepid. Temperature affects nthe taste, so if you’re looking to impress, have an idea of what works for your specific dish.