I’ve spent my 10,000 hours in the kitchen, not through particularly trying, but simply because I’m old, and like cooking. Cooking for me is great, but only when I have enough time to enjoy it, which isn’t easy with a full time job etc! So here is my collection of tips – these have been acquired over those 10,000+ hours and, well every day is a school day – never close your mind to doing something differently.
If you make use of even one of them, then my job is done 🙂
Heat – it matters!
One of the massive differences between commercial restaurant style cooking and domestic cooking is the fact that commercial kitchens have facilities to simply cook hotter than you can using a typical domestic kitchen and appliances. Until you have experienced this, it’s an abstract concept, but once you have, your eyes will be opened!
Of course, not all foods will benefit by being cooked at higher temperature, but many of them will.
- Turn your oven up! Just cook the food hotter for a shorter period of time, don’t be afraid to turn up the heat – every oven is slightly different, but do experiment!
- Use a probe / cooking thermometer, with enough experience you’ll be able to use tricks to ensure your food is cooked properly, however it never hurts to be sure, gather the facts and take advantage of modern technology to cheat.
- Go Induction. Yes, Induction. Those fans of Gas will cry out in horror, but seriously, Induction is where it’s at. With Induction technology your pan becomes the heating element, there is no energy lost between your device and the pan, the heat is instant, and in most cases Induction will allow you to use those higher temperatures which are normally only found in commercial kitchens. Be warned that some pans aren’t induction capable, but it’s an excuse to go but some really nice pans – I recently replaced some of my pans with the Starfrit the Rock range. I can’t shout about Induction loudly enough, in a domestic kitchen where you can’t have a 10kw wok-burner, it’s the closest you’re gonna get.
- There is no shame in using a flat bottomed wok!
- Don’t buy cheap non-stick, it won’t survive the higher heat levels, if you can – use and well season carbon-steel, or use a hard-anodised aluminium pan with a steel plate to ensure it’s induction ready, then do so!
- Go buy a commercial griddle aka flat-top, or commercial level teppanyaki grill – spend the money, you won’t regret it – they get hotter than anything else you’d imagine in your kitchen and can be used to cook so many things – never a penny wasted here 🙂
- Oils! – Stop using damn olive oil for everything! Olive Oil is nice, but it is not suitable for high temperature cooking, look at something like Avocado or Peanut (Ground nut) oils for the highest temperatures – ensure you’re not adding ingredients in the form of oils which will trigger allergies for the people you’re cooking for. If in doubt, use good old Vegetable oil when using high heat.
- Actually cook your meat – use high heat! One of my major annoyances in life is watching people make minced meat dishes such as a Bolognaise Sauce and just browning the meat before adding in the liquid elements, essentially what you get is boiled meat in sauce… makes me want to hurl. When cooking your ground / minced meat off, then it’s the case of cooking until all the water has evaporated, then cooking some more until the fat has been re-absorbed; only then add your liquid in – the taste and texture will be amazing! If we’re talking grilling / convection broiling, then actually brown it properly, in so many cooking videos I see the meat simply isn’t cooked, I know some people like their meat rare, and they’re what’s know as wrong 😉
Prepare your ingredients well, if it’s a spice mixture, prepare it in bowls or containers before you cook, you don’t wanna be running around diving in and out of cupboards when things are in motion; the same goes for things like eggs – crack them into containers before you need – few things as annoying as to have to pick shells out in the middle of cooking. Preparation will make your life easier – don’t skip your food prep!
- Eggs – crack them into bowls – so much easier to handle and not having to worry about dropping / shells going everywhere.
- Spice / Sauce Mixtures – always prep in advance, this prevents you from making mistakes in the heat of the moment, and it’s so much neater when you cook!
- Meat – experiment a little with bringing it up to room temperature before cooking – the meat will be more relaxed and tender when cooked
- Zip-Lock Bags – save your bowls and excess washing up by using zip-lock bags when marinating basically anything.
A good set of knives is essential! And have enough – I usually work with two sets of knives in the kitchen, and then some. Treat them well and they’ll last
- Buy decent knives, your cooking, your back, your posture, and your eyes will all benefit from decent knives
- Keep them sharp – buy a decent knife sharpener such as a Smith’s 50264 Adjustable Manual Knife Sharpener, and use it before you put your knives away so they’re ready for next time. Most kitchen knives will be sharp enough at an 18 degree angle.
- Sharp Knives – I cannot say enough now much having sharp knives helps – you’ll cut faster and more accurately. Crying when cooking onions will be a thing of the past, and when your mates see your upgraded knife skills, they’ll call you names 🙂
Ingredients, Cheating & Everything else!
Nothing wrong with cheating – cheat where you can, so long as you don’t compromise whatever your end goal is!
- MSG – This substance is the physical manifestation of cheat-mode, ignore the BS – MSG is a rocket-booster for so much!
- FAT – Fat is flavour, fat is the king. In the west, we’ve all been brain-washed by successive governmental idiots that fat is bad – Lies! – Use the fat, your cooking will thank you!
- Go for the higher quality ingredients, you’ll be surprised at the difference – your food will be elevated to the next level!
- When preparing a pasta dish, save some of the pasta-water which contains a lot of starch. When the pasta is a minute or so from finishing off, stop it cooking, then finish it off with the sauce and some of the saved pasta-water, half a mug or so – you’ll find that this method rids the dish of any extra water, and the sauce binds to the pasta so much more than just dumping a load of sauce on a pile of pasta
- Most of us Humans also eat with our brains, meaning that the senses you use aren’t limited to taste and smell – cook for the eyes – presentation matters
- Think of the chemistry of food as well as everything else, learn what balances what, e.g. sugar / ketchup / cream / fat can balance tart tomato purée
- Build you dishes and flavours in layers, food prepared with this in mind is simply amazing
- Cook your Garlic and spices, but don’t let them burn. When the garlic / spices go very fragrant generally speaking they’re done – cool your pan at this point, take it off the heat for a bit, add liquid etc. Don’t burn the garlic!
- Don’t be afraid to nick ideas and ingredients from different genres of food – it’s serious cheat-mode… Black Pudding Bhajis anyone?
- Pre-prepared ingredients such as Garlic in oil are amazing, save your time and cupboard space by using such, nothing wrong with them!
- Save on washing up and use zip-lock bags where practical
- Be smart about the order you cook things in – you can often save on washing up by reusing a pan
- Use aluminium foil or baking parchment to save your baking trays, making them a doddle to wash
Wrapping up this article, here are some final points to consider:
- Failure is always an option. Don’t be disheartened if you fail. Every failure is an opportunity to re-think and skill up.
- Experience is where it’s at – it’s all too easy to get stuck cooking the same type of foods with the same methods and not skill-up – every now and again, cook something you think you can’t, something from a different genre, you’ll be surprised how much your past experience will help, and how much more experienced you can become!
- Having Patience is one of the best tips I can give you. In current times instant gratification is a thing, and yes everyone likes those precious hits of Dopamine and Serotonin – your cooking hobby can give those, but not so instant. Real life isn’t a computer game, and it will take serious time for most people to skill-up and reach those plateaus where they’re happy with their current levels of skills. BE PATIENT – ENJOY THE JOURNEY.