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November 19, 2010

Tips for beginner cooks

I’ve wanted to write a post like this since I first started this blog and am now finally getting around to it!

Whenever I cook with beginner cooks/people who don’t cook often, I always notice them making the same cardinal mistakes. Though these rules become second nature to one who cooks regularly, they may not be so obvious to a beginner. So here are a few do’s and don’ts:

· When grilling or pan-frying meat (chicken, steak, pork, burgers), DO NOT press on the meat while it is cooking, with your spatula, tongs, or whatever weapon of choice is handy. JUST LEAVE IT BE! If you press on it when it is cooking, you risk losing all the juices and being left with a sad, dry piece of meat. Nobody likes that.

· DO NOT stir constantly! Stir only the amount specified in the recipe.

For instance, when boiling pasta, stir 2-3 times in the 10-minute or so cooking time. (In this case stirring too often will not necessarily hinder the dish but it is simply a waste of time!) However, when tackling something a bit more challenging, like risotto, most recipes will call for continuous stirring, which is a crucial step for the final product.

· DO NOT crank the heat to high unless so specified! For example, when making an omelette, my sister Lily always sets the heat at super high, and ends up discarding her final product because raising the heat does not cook food faster! Science cannot be fooled! The potential meal will only burn and be inedible. Nobody likes that either, n’est-ce pas?

· DO season each layer! Do not wait until the product is done to salt it. Salt brings out foods’ flavors and each layer needs to be seasoned to ensure proper flavor development. When making a stew, for example, season each layer of ingredients as you add them to the pan. (e.g. vegetables+salt, meat+salt, potatoes+salt, etc).

However, do not over-salt! When seasoning, add just a pinch at a time.

· DO always taste a dish before serving it. Isn’t it a shame to plate something and then taste it, only to find that the seasonings need adjusting?

The above are only a few guidelines. Cooking is an intricate science and art, and it requires consideration of many more elements than I listed. However, I hope these help.


Garry Gaga said...

Every single one of those mistakes is actually my routine.

Les rêves d'une boulangère (Brittany) said...

Great post Sasha! These tips really do come in handy. Funny how cooking is a balance of art/science, but hints like these can really help that practical side of things

Darlene said...

I do agree about seasoning each layer. It makes a world of difference in the taste.

teresa said...

great tip!

soop said...

lol @ "science cannot be fooled!"
If I may-
*Read the whole recipe first
*measure salt into the appropriate spoon or your hand before adding to food (never dump it in directly from the box)
*Chinese take-out places will sell you ready made rice for like $1 if you still can't make it yourself.
*most fancy-choppy gizmoes are unnecessary if you already own a knife

I realize you weren't soliciting tips, I'm just annoying that way. Your tips are really great. It drives me up the wall when people press down on cooking meat, but I can't ever say "Nooo, the juices are escaping!" without worrying that I'll sound like a crazy.