“Cooking is a skill that is perfected only with the trials of experience”. While this statement breeds plenty of truth, there are a handful of concepts that, when implemented, improve your baseline cooking skills substantially. To make this long list more manageable, we’ve detailed the seven most effective ways of increasing your cooking skills overnight.
1. Buy Quality Ingredients
Trying to make memorable dishes without quality ingredients is like trying to make a fire with water-logged wood. No amount of salt or spice will make up for the lack of flavor within your base elements. So start yourself off right, and invest in fresh, high quality ingredients.
“Where do I get quality ingredients?” you might ask.
We can point you in a reliable direction, but ultimately you’re going to need to start experimenting on your own. Our first recommendation is to locate your nearest farmer’s market. The main intention of vendors is to give you the most unadulterated, freshest ingredients possible. Befriend a few farmers and you’ll quickly find how valuable these little get-togethers can be.
You can also search your local grocery stores (not large supply chains). Many of these little “mom and pop” shops are able to compete with the big guys because they offer genuinely local, organic and non-GMO products. If you’re interested in finding out more about your local grocery stores, start asking questions. Better yet, buy some produce and give it the taste test.
2. Prep Before any Cooking Starts
Too often we find homecooks sparking the burner before they’ve chopped their veggies. While this will save you a marginal amount of time, it can wreak havoc on the quality of your dish. Take the extra 3-5 minutes and prepare all your ingredients before any heat is introduced. Line em’ up so you’re always a step ahead of what’s cooking. You’ll be surprised to find how much calmer you are when all your ingredients are ready at the forefront, so you’re able to more easily bring your vision to life.
The only time we recommend heating ahead of time is when you’re using the oven. Most ovens take 10-15 minutes to reach the required temperature. We’ve found the most success when starting to preheat halfway through prep time. This cuts a little time off your cook while also providing you a little slack between prep and cook.
3. Know Which Cooking Oil to Use
Cooking with oil is essential, but not all oils contribute to a dish in the same way. There are 3 major variables to mull over when determining the right oil:
- Smoke Point
- Fatty Acid Content
(detailed table below)
Smoke point is the temperature at which the oil starts to smoke. Exceeding the smoke point temperature can introduce some nasty flavors into your dish while also increasing the chance of a grease fire (if cooking a high fat food). While oil smoking isn’t always a bad thing, we generally stray away from it whenever possible.
Each oil will contribute its own flavor, or lack of flavor, that should be fine-tuned to the dish you’re cooking. Unrefined coconut oil, for example, contributes a fairly potent coconut flavor which can add or take away from the dish at hand. If you’re unsure of which oil to use, always go with a neutral flavored one. This will ensure your base ingredients take the main stage and aren’t suppressed by the overbearing flavors of the oil.
Fatty Acids are a large constituent of each oil. It’s important to understand how they behave. Saturated fatty acids (think butter and refined coconut oil) usually pack more gusto and act as enhancers for the sweetness and saltiness in a dish. The smoke points of these oils are usually lower, so it’s best to use them on low heat or simmering cooks. Saturated fatty acids are far less susceptible to oxidation and therefore can be left out without fear of going rancid.
Unsaturated fatty acid oils (think olive oil, avocado oil and canola oil)are usually heavily refined, and when cooked, present very little flavor. Even the unrefined variants contribute little flavor when cooked sufficiently. Unsaturated fatty acids also oxidize relatively quickly (due to their chemical structure) and can develop rancid flavors over time. In spite of all these seemingly negative characteristics, unsaturated fatty oils usually have a much higher smoke point and can sustain the higher temperatures of searing and oven-baking.
|Smoke Point||Flavor (When Cooked)||Fatty Acid Comp|
|Butter||200°-250°F||Neutral (but enhances other flavors)||66% Sat.|
|Coconut Oil (unrefined)||350°F||Strong Coconut Flavor||90% Sat.|
|Olive Oil (extra virgin)||375°F||Deep Spicy, Olive Notes||12% Sat|
|Canola Oil||400°F||Neutral||6% Sat|
|Vegetable Oil||Approx 400°F||Neutral||Variable (High in Unsat. Fats)|
|Avocado Oil||Approx 500°F||Neutral||10% Sat|
4. Get Comfortable with Your Oven and Stove
Every heating appliance behaves differently. It only makes sense to accustom yourself to the one you use the most often robustkitchen.com,.
While cooking on the stove, pay attention to the heat setting and the size of the flame (if it’s a gas burner). If you’re using conduction, start studying how your different pans behave at each setting (different metals will conduct heat differently). If you’re using infrared or electric coil, make sure you know how much heat to expect with each small turn of the dial.
Start studying your oven. How fast does it preheat? Slower preheat times mean slower to reach required temperature, and the minute you put cold food in there, it’s going to have to preheat again. To compensate for the lowering temperature, you’ll have to cook for longer. Also, check the temperature of the oven with a thermometer. Is the oven temperature the same as displayed? How much is the temperature off? Will you compensate by a temperature or cook-time change?
All important questions to ask yourself. The most important takeaway being that you get acquainted with how your cooking appliances behave, and compensate accordingly.
5. Check Flavor and Texture as You Go
How some of us rely so heavily on following recipes is a little baffling. Placing your trust in what worked for somebody else rarely equates to what will work for you. Start tasting your dish as you go (granted that it’s safe to consume) and familiarize yourself with the flavor and texture changes throughout the process. Using your senses more diligently will allow you to diversify your palate and become a better cook.
6. Keep in Mind the Cooking after the Cook
Enclosed foods will continue to cook long after you’ve taken them off the heat source. Keep this in mind when using a food thermometer. Taking the food off the stove or out of the oven just before it hits temperature will allow it to reach optimal temperature during its “rest.” Many of us have a tendency to overcook food because we don’t take this post-cooking stage into consideration.
7. Get Creative with the Presentation
Most home cooks leave food art to the culinary experts. I encourage you to relinquish this idea. If you truly want to see your cooking skills skyrocket, start caring about your dishes from start to finish. There is nothing more frustrating than watching someone slave away at a meal, only to carelessly slap the food onto a plate.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Create a post-cooking plate,cutting board, or platter where the food can sit and rest. As the food begins to compress, juices can flow out freely without messing up your final plate (this plate stays in the kitchen).
- Use clean, white plates to help the colors in your dish pop.
- The base of your dish should be the main attraction. Make everything else compliment it.
- Drizzle your sauces strategically to avoid puddling (you can also drizzle the juices from the post-cooking plate).
- This takes time, but you’ll find your audience to be more impressed and appreciate all the hard work you’ve put into your dish.
Yes, while cooking is a skill harnessed and nurtured by experience, there are ways to expedite the learning process. Take these 7 simple concepts and implement them into your daily kitchen regime to place your cooking foundation on new, solid grounds. We encourage you to experiment and expand on these concepts.