If you’re just starting out in the kitchen, and finding cooking a bit of challenge and want to find ways to improve the taste and flavor of your meals, you’re absolutely not alone. Fortunately, there a ton of quick cooking hacks that can improve the flavor profile of your dish in just minutes.
So whether you’re cooking for one or one big family, we’ve rounded up some of the best ‘tiny’ habits to implement into your cooking routine that will immediately make everything taste just that little bit better.
1. Chop ingredients uniformly
The idea with this is; if it looks the same, it cooks the same. When prepping, slice ingredients so they’re all about the same size. This ensures everything cooks evenly and consistently — and lets you avoid overdone smaller pieces, and still-raw larger ones. No-one likes that raw potato taste.
2. For the best sear, dry meat off with a paper towel first
Meat and fish can carry a fine layer of moisture on top, either because of storage or because of the type of protein it is. This layer can prevent a sharp sizzle when it hits the pan, so it’s super important to remove it. For that even cook, dab the excess moisture off with a paper towel.
3. When using aromatics, add garlic last
Ever noticed how many, many recipes tell you to add garlic last? There’s a good reason for it – garlic burns extremely easily, especially if it’s minced or chopped. Add it to your dish last.
4. Brine chicken breasts before cooking
Brining chicken breasts or other meat helps them to retain their moisture and juiciness. Don’t want to brine them? Quickly soak it in salt and water instead, just make sure to dab off excess moisture before cooking. This process can take as little as 5 minutes, but makes all the difference to the taste of the meat.
5. Similarly, salt your steaks
When cooking steak, after its fully defrosted, add a thick layer of salt on top and leave it for around 30 minutes. Similar to the brining method, this reverse-osmosis process ensures that your steak is flavoured throughout. Afterwards, simply rinse and pat dry.
6. Season as you cook, not just after
This might seem like a no-brainer to many, but it’s so easy to forget the season as we go. Every time you add a new batch of ingredients to the pot, you’ll want to season appropriately. This helps to create layers of flavors as you cook.
7. Pair the right wine/drink with the meal
The right drink can enhance the flavor of any meal, and vice versa. It’s why fancy restaurants recommend a specific wine to go with your meal.
For vegetables, try a dry white. For soft cheese, a sweet white. For hard cheese, a rich white. For starchy meals and fish, a sparkling drink. For rich fish and white meat, try a light red. For red and cured meat, try either a medium or bold red. For sweets, try a dessert drink (Bailey’s Irish Cream immediately springs to mind!).
8. Don’t seed tomatoes
That jelly part of the tomato? That’s where 90% of the flavor comes from. Whilst the skin is where the fiber and nutrients come from, it’s the seedy, jelly part you’ll want to incorporate into your dish.
9. Strike only when the pan is hot
If the oil isn’t hot enough, the food will just soak up the oil instead of sizzling in it. You’ll want oil hot enough so that it swirls or ripples when you move the pan, but not so hot that it smokes. Learn how to spot the difference here.
10. Deglaze the pan for extra taste later on
You know those little brown, caramelized bits that stick to the bottom of the pan? They’re called fond in the culinary world, and are loaded with extra flavour, so don’t just throw them away. The easiest way to claw back that added taste is to deglaze the pan, simply using a liquid to dislodge it. You can then fold it back into the sauce or meal.
11. While you’re deglazing, add a mirepoix while you’re at it
When deglazing your pan, why not add a mirepoix while you’re at it. A mirepoix is just two parts onion, one part celery, and one part carrot. Sweat them out a little, THEN add the typical deglazing liquid to mop up all that flavor. You can either mash them or strain to add to a sauce.
12. And if you added too much salt, add acid
Added too much salt to your dish? No worries. Add some acidic food e.g. vinegar or something citrusy to help counterbalance the flavour and elevate the taste of the dish. Alternatively, if your dish tastes flat and you’ve already added salt, try adding a squeeze of something acidic to liven up the flavors.
13. Remember things continue to cook even off heat
Residual heat can quickly turn your favorite perfectly cooked dish into an overcooked mess real quick, especially if you’re cooking with meat or eggs. To prevent this, take the pan off the stove just before the produce reaches the internal temperature you want. While meat rests, its temperature will still continue to rise and cook (thanks Masterchef for the handy tip!). To learn more about carryover cooking, check this handy post out.
14. Rinse rice to prevent it from becoming gloopy
Rice can become gloopy and sticky real quick after it’s cooked due to its high starch content. To removes the excess surface starch (which causes the clumpiness), rinse the rice in a bowl before cooking. The water will go slightly cloudy – this is the starch!
15. Season things like mushrooms & zucchini after they have browned, not before
When mixed with salt, high water content vegetables such as mushrooms and zucchini will make your food soggy. Salt draws water out of vegetables. To prevent this, brown the veggies first, let some of that excess water drain and then add the salt and other seasonings (oh, and make sure they’re dry before they hit the pan!).
16. Finish pan sauces with a touch of butter for extra richness
In the culinary world, this little tip is known as “monter au beurre’’, and is best suited to a sauce. Next time you’re whipping up a sauce, add a few knobs of cold butter at the very end of cooking to add an extra depth of flavour and shine to the dish.
17. Save veggie scraps to make broth or stock
Not only is homemade veggie broth and stock a cheaper way of cooking, it’s also super delicious, and boost the flavour profile of soups, stews and sauces. Save your scrap veggies, lock them in a Ziploc bag and freeze for later.
18. Using spices? Add them to warming oil for extra flavor
If you’re going to use dry herbs and spices, sprinkle them into your pan early on while the oil is still heating up and do it before you add your meat or produce. This does two things: it ‘activates’ the flavour and makes sure your food gets really coated in all that yumminess.
19. Salt your pasta water…the right way
People often say your pasta water should be as salty as the Aegean Sea. There’s an old adage that pasta water should be as salty as the Aegean Sea, but considering that no one loves the taste of a mouthful of salt water, that’s not too helpful of a tip—nor is it precise!
According to a Taste of Home, add about 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt for every pound of pasta. You can, however, experiment a bit and tone up or down to appeal to your taste. Be sure to bear in mind what sauces and finishes you’ll be adding to your dish.
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