Today is the last day of the blogging marathon (thank goodness, right?). And since Edible Times offered a lot of foodformation this month, I thought I would end the streak with ways to ensure a successful meal every single time. And the tips and techniques are not hard or complex. A child could do them (if a knife-toting five-year-old didn’t scream situation).
In no particular order…
Season & taste, taste & season. Before you sit down at the table, or in your chair or in bed (you know you’ve done it), season everything with salt and pepper. Yes, even your salad. You don’t need to empty the whole shaker in one fell swoop, but seasoning all the parts of your dish separately will really up your enjoyment level.
A small pinch of salt to your favorite dessert recipes will also bring about an aha moment of enhanced tastiness. And don’t forget to toss a good handful of salt into the boiling water for pasta and vegetables, it’s aha, too.
The exception to this is processed goods and canned items that are loaded with sodium (but these are not recommended regulars on the menu, anyway).
The two second rule. If you can hold your palm above a heated pan or grill for more than two seconds, it’s not hot enough. And on a similar note, your oven is most likely not ready when it claims to be. The best way to ensure great grill marks and golden brown crust on sautéed meat is to preheat the pan for several minutes before cooking. And most standard home ovens need at least 15 minutes to produce and retain heat, and even then they might not be calibrated correctly. A thermometer is essential for detecting a lying, cheating-you-out-of-success-oven.
Size it up. Cutting carrots, peppers or meat for stew? If they look the same, they’ll cook the same. Otherwise, with a variety of shapes and sizes you could end up with a mix of crunchy and mushy, or too tender and dried out. No need for precision, just consistency.
Love the bits. If you are cooking any kind of meat in a pan, never throw it in the sink before making a sauce! This is throwing flavor down the drain. All those dark brown bits are caramelized goodness, and you can make a sauce in a flash by adding a little bit of the right stock to the pan, scraping the bits with a wooden spoon and reducing the liquid until it thickens slightly, or adding a little cornstarch dissolved in water (1 teaspoon per cup of stock).
This technique, the ever popular deglazing, helps the dishwasher (human or otherwise) while providing you with an easy sauce. A splash of heavy cream at the end doesn’t hurt either. And the whole process takes five minutes.
Shallots. Yes, just shallots. Every restaurant I’ve worked in uses shallots like they’re going out of style. This particular onion family member is sweet and spunky at the same time. Mince a few once a week and store them in the cooler to use when cooking vegetables, mixing salads and dressings, scrambling eggs, cooking soups and even when deglazing for a simple sauce.
So there you have it. The five most commonly known tips and techniques drilled into the head of every culinary student and restaurant line cook. I could have potentially opened the month with them and saved myself 31 day’s worth of brainstorming and carpal tunnel inflammation. But where’s the fun in that?
An aha afterthought…
I snapped the pictures of plated entrées in this post during my time in the kitchen at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, California. For the record, not even chefs plate food like this at home, and of course it does not make any of it taste better.