How to become a better cook is one of those topics that has no simple answer, but is high on many peoples’ wish lists. Whether you are cooking for yourself or family and friends, everyone wants to be a better cook.
Preparing a delicious meal by yourself, from scratch, and then enjoying it (shared or not) is, after all, one of life’s more satisfying experiences.
Paraphrasing Julia Child, it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. Just make good food from fresh ingredients. The question is, how do you get to that point?
Want some proof of how universal the desire to become a better cook is? Just look at the popularity of the Food Channel or any of the other cooking shows on TV.
And cookbooks are selling better than ever, too. More than 17 million were sold in the first half of 2018 in the United States alone. That marked a staggering increase of 21% over 2017.
Clearly, a lot of people want to become better cooks. Read on as we take a look at some top cooking tips from the experts.
Keep Cooking and Be Critical
A common theme from professional chefs and cooks alike is simple. Keep cooking. Every time you try something, you’ll get better at it.
Don’t only listen to the folks you cooked for. They will almost always tell you it was good. After all, they have a vested interest in being complimentary. You cooked. They didn’t have to.
Instead, be critical of your work. Was the seasoning right? Was the protein cooked to perfection? How about the timing? Were the veggies done before the main course? What could you have done better?
What will you change when you cook that same recipe again? And you should. Remember, keep cooking.
Read the Entire Recipe: Start to Finish
Have you ever gotten most of the way through a recipe and then, yikes! At the last minute, you discover you are missing a key ingredient.
That’s not fun. If you’ve got people waiting to eat, it can be a disaster. And it’s preventable. Read the recipe, start to finish. Think through all the steps and estimate the time involved.
That’s the key to no surprises. You’ve planned ahead. You’ve got everything prepped and ready. Now it’s just a matter of following the steps.
Plan Ahead: Make a List and Check it Twice
Cooking should be fun, not a stress-induced nightmare. One of the best ways to have your cooking flow without snags is simple. Take a few minutes to plan and make a list of what you will need. It’s a simple step and one that’s often ignored.
Now you don’t have to get down in the weeds and make a five-tab spreadsheet. Some people will. You won’t.
But you will make an ingredients list. And if you’re cooking a whole meal with several dishes, you’ll make some notes on what to start when. You’ll know how long each dish takes so it all comes together seamlessly.
Getting Fancy: Mise en Place
That’s a fancy French term all professional chefs learn the first day in school. It’s that important. But what it means is not very fancy. It means, ‘everything in its place.’ Simple, right?
Like Read the Recipe and Make a List, it’s all about prepping and organizing. Before you start cooking, make sure everything you need for each dish is out and ready. Remember? Planning and prep eliminate stress.
Onions chopped, garlic minced, cabbage shredded, spices ready. No surprises, right? That applies to your equipment, too.
The Sharpest Knife in the Drawer
It might be nice if you could afford it, but the truth is you don’t need the most expensive and newest knives, utensils, and equipment. Remember, nobody cares what kind of paintbrush Van Gogh used.
You do need sharp knives and reliable utensils. You do need good cast iron pans and good pots in the right sizes. And you need to know how to use them and take care of them.
The same goes for your oven, your cooktop, and any other equipment you are going to use.
That sweet new grill? Use it a few times before you invite the gang over for a fancy Sunday barbeque. All of these grills and smokers have a learning curve. Don’t practice when it’s game time.
Get Fresh: Get Local
There’s a reason professionals get up early and do their shopping before the rest of us are having coffee. They need to make sure they get the best and freshest local produce, meats, and fish.
It makes a difference in how your meals will taste. A big difference. Fresh is always better than frozen. Local is always fresher – and usually less processed.
Ingredients shipped across the country or around the world need to survive the trip. Local came from the farm down the road this morning.
Buy the best ingredients your budget can afford and buy what’s in season whenever you can. When you’re looking at recipes, ask yourself what’s in season where you live? Using those ingredients means fresher and local.
If you happen to be living in Antarctica, that’s going to be a problem. For most of us, it isn’t. Cooking what’s in season means better tasting food and it’s good for our local economies, too.
How to Become a Better Cook: Keep Cooking
Practice makes perfect. Before you know it, it’s no longer cooking for beginners. You’ll have developed a great sense of what ingredients pair well with others, which spices and condiments are complimentary, and the benefits of contrasts.
Recipes will become starting points. You’ll see a recipe and think, hmm, if I take that and change this, substitute this for that. When you get to that point, you are officially a good cook!
How to become a better cook? Plan and prep. Read recipes from start to finish. Have the equipment you need and know how to use it. Buy the best, freshest and local ingredients you can. Cook with the seasons in mind. Most of all, relax and have fun!
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