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Basic Cooking Tips And Tricks To Improve Your Food

With COVID-19 restricting food options—since dine-in is a no go in most places and consistently getting delivery can be expensive—plenty of people are preparing a greater proportion of their meals at home. 

If you haven’t had much practice cooking your own meals, and to do so is something that would be accessible to you, it may be a habit worth trying out.  The upfront cost may be higher, but if you can afford it, it is a more cost-effective habit in the long run.  In addition to the saved costs, you also get more leftovers.  And perhaps best of all, as you gain more practice, you will be able to tweak each dish to suit your own individual tastes.

Cooking is, as many things are, a bit of an acquired skill.  It can be frustrating to feel like you are following a recipe to the dot and still getting a subpar result.   Every kitchen is a little different—some ovens, especially older ones, run a little hotter or a little cooler than the temperature you input—and it can take some time to accustom yourself to how to best work within the space available to you. 

While you are learning though, here are a handful of basic cooking tips to keep in mind as you work that will always help you achieve the best possible results.

  1. Salt Every Step

When cooking savory dishes, salt as you go.  Salt is a flavor enhancer, and while it will still make your food taste better when you add it at the end, adding salt throughout will help achieve a richness and depth of flavor that salting only one time simply cannot replicate.  If you’re cooking meat, for instance, season before cooking as well as after, and if you’re serving pasta alongside it, add some salt to the boiling water.  If you’re nervous about accidentally making food too salty, it’s okay to start out with a light touch and adjust as needed in the future, since it can be very difficult to salvage a dish that is over salted.  But add some salt every step, then perform a quick taste at the end and add more if necessary. 

2. Speaking Of Salt: Let Your Meat Sit

If you are cooking with meat, try and season the meat well beforehand rather than right before you put it in the pan.  Try and salt steak and other beef, for instance, at least an hour before you cook it, though longer is certainly better if you have the time. 

The reason this works can be a little complicated, but if you’ve ever noticed that you get thirsty after eating salty food, this is because (very simply) salt tends to draw moisture out.  When you season your meat with salt and let it sit, some water gets drawn out of it.  The salt then dissolves into the water, which then gets reabsorbed back into the meat, improving flavor.  Long story short: giving your meat time to take in the salt is a good thing. 

And, quick side note: many websites actually specifically recommend salting chicken twenty-four hours before cooking.  Similarly, if you can salt your steak or pork and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator before you cook it, go for it!

3. Don’t Overcrowd Your Pan

If you like cooking, or you have a lot of food to prepare, it can be really tempting to put a bunch of stuff on the pan at once and cover every available inch of surface area.  Unfortunately, while you may be cooking more food at once with this method, you probably shouldn’t do it. 

Cooking in batches when you could theoretically get all your food done in one go can be frustrating (and if time is really packed, you may still opt to do it all at once).  But if you’re looking to maximize the deliciousness of your food, patience is your best bet.  This is because when your pan is too crowded, the heat actually creates steam under your food.  So…basically, you’re steaming your food rather than grilling or searing it.  There is a time and place for steamed dishes, of course, but if your intention is to pan fry or sear your food, this is a pitfall to be wary of.

4. Make Sure You’re Prepping Your Meat The Right Way After It’s Done!

Another meat-focused tip, but meat is just one of those cooking options that can be well-enhanced with a few simple steps. 

Once you’ve gotten your meat off the grill and it looks good, there are two steps remaining that will make sure that you get the best possible result.  First and foremost: as tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t dig into your meal right away.  You will lose a lot of flavor if you cut into your steak right away; all the juice will just come rushing out.  Instead, cover the steak up (wrapping it or the plate in foil is a good way to go) and wait about fifteen minutes for the steak to ‘relax.’  Once it does, you’re good to go. 

Lastly, whenever you cut steak, take care to do so against the grain.  The pattern of the sinews and fibers in the meat should be visible, so if you are slicing the meat to serve, ensure that you cut perpendicular to this grain (so if the grain is running right to left, you’d use a vertical cut, creating a right angle against the grain).  Cutting through these fibers rather than alongside them shortens them, which actually helps make the meat more tender.

Getting into cooking for the first time can feel difficult and frustrating.  It half intuition—using your gut and experience to know when something is done, or how much spice to add—and half science.  While there are many more tips and tricks out there, these four are an excellent launching-off point for any newcomer.

By Leslie Williams

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