I have a hell of a time keeping my mouth shut when I see folks make common cooking mistakes. But because I know I’m pushy, extroverted and a tad dominant, I try to keep myself in check.
I DO SO! I know all my friends are reading this thinking, “When does that hooker keep anything to herself?!” It’s true though. If y’all heard everything that pops in my head you’d tie me up in a cypress swamp and leave me there. At least for a couple days. Then you’d miss me and come get me.
Anyway, as a student of life, from my own experiences in the kitchen and my obsession with Food Network, here are a few tips I adhere to which I think are worth sharing.
Shred your own cheese. Most shredded cheeses have a powdery coating that keeps the shreds from sticking together in the bag. This coating keeps the cheese from getting as creamy as it could be in hot dishes. Never EVER buy shredded mozzarella or other soft cheeses. In order to shred these easily, manufacturers finish the cheese off firmer than they should so the end result is not anything like it should be.
Mashing is for potatoes. Not hamburgers. I cringe each time I see someone using a spatula to press down on a cooking hamburger. By doing this you are pushing out all the natural flavor and juices from the burger which will yield a dry, tasteless burger.
Season meat before you cook it. Seems like a no-brainer right? Wrong. I’ve come across many folks over the years that don’t season their proteins before or while they’re cooking them, choosing to just add salt after it’s plated. Honestly, I’d rather eat styrofoam.
Use real butter. Just do it.
Don’t cut your meat while you’re cooking it. I know sometimes you might have to take a peek just to be sure that something is done but try – try hard – not to do this if you can help it. And if you must, just cut one piece. So long as everything is relatively the same size and has been cooking the same amount of time, all the pieces should cook the same. When you cut meat before it has rested you’re opening a drain for all the juices and flavor to run out of.
Heat your oil when you’re ready to cook. Oil can scorch and taste burnt or rancid if you heat it too high and too long before cooking with it. You can bring your pan up to temperature for as long as you like, but only add the oil when you’re ready to heat it.
Read the entire recipe. Don’t get surprised by an ingredient you hadn’t noticed or a four-hour step (cooling, simmering, marinating, etc.) that will totally derail your plans.
Read the comments. The internet is an awesome source for recipes and feedback on those recipes. If you see something you like but a large percentage of the reader comments indicate mixed results, steer clear. Any jackhole can start a food blog. Obviously.
Add barbeque sauce toward the end. Most barbeque sauces have a lot of sugar in them. Sugar burns. Add barbeque sauce toward the end of your cooking time to ensure that it gets to do its thing but without burning.
Salt the sweets. Don’t skip the small amounts of salt listed in sweet recipes. Salt is a flavor enhancer and is just as crucial to sweet recipes as it is to savory ones. For more on how I feel about that, read this.
Let it rest. You probably know to let large cuts of meat rest before cutting and serving, but the same is true for most dishes, especially those that include starches. Rice and pasta dishes, when at their peak, have soaked up the juices and flavors from the dish they’ve been cooked in and have reached a “resting state”. When I make dishes like Chicken Pilau or lasagna, I’ll often let it rest, covered, about 30 minutes before I serve it.
‘Simmer’ and ‘boil’ are not the same thing. Boiling protein will seize it and make it tough, which is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do by simmering it. Never let broth, water, etc. reach a full rolling boil when cooking protein. Keep it just below a boil where you can see a little bubbling. After being brought to temperature, this happy place is usually found around your medium-low setting.
Don’t use fat-free dairy products in cooked recipes. Fat is required to keep dairy products from curdling or becoming grainy after being heated. If you're that worried about it, eat an apple instead.
Cook in batches. When browning or searing in a skillet or pan, it is very important not to try to cook too much at once. Food releases moisture when it’s cooked. If you have too much in the pan, the moisture won’t be able to evaporate so instead of browning or searing, you’ll end up boiling (I drain my hamburger meat half-way through the cooking process to make sure the meat gets seared, not boiled). The same is true when frying. A crowded pan will result in a soggy, mushy coating.