We all love cooking tips: those little knacks and tricks we should be doing to make us better cooks and whip up more flavoursome meals. But sometimes it’s the things we should stop doing that matter the most.
Fresh Prep’s culinary experts share their top 10 common cooking mistakes and how to easily correct them:
1. Not patting meat dry
Patting meat dry helps get rid of excess moisture, which prevents the meat from searing evenly – this is when all the good browning happens. Browning creates all the flavour!
2. Not seasoning every layer or ingredient
Seasoning ingredients individually as you cook brings out the flavours of each element of the dish. Worried you’ll add too much salt? Don’t wait until the end to taste the dish – taste as you go and adjust the seasoning to your preference.
3. Not waiting for the frying pan to heat up
Generally speaking, ingredients such as proteins are usually more delicious when placed into a hot pan. Searing allows protein to develop a caramelized and crispy surface which contributes to an appealing flavour and texture.
4. Not rinsing grains like rice and quinoa
Rinsing rice can help remove any remaining debris and surface starch, which can lead to a gummy consistency when cooked – that’s also why we don’t want to rinse if we are cooking risotto because we want that creamy consistency.
Rinsing quinoa is extra important because there is a bitter tasting layer that coats each grain – rinsing helps get rid of this.
5. Skipping the zest
Lemon or lime zest provides a bright punch of flavour without being overly acidic or sour like the juice of the fruit. The zest really makes a big difference to your final result, so we do not recommend skipping that step!
6. Not reserving pasta water
Pasta water contains starches from the pasta that help sauce bind to the noodles, and help to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Pasta water is what makes a sauce “glossy”. Adding oil to the pasta water while cooking the noodles, or coating pasta in oil after cooking, also prevents sauce from binding to the noodles. We suggest adding cooked pasta straight to your sauce.
7. Not picking your herbs
Some tender herbs like cilantro and parsley have flavourful stems so sometimes we will skip the picking step! Other more woody herbs like thyme and rosemary have stems with a rough texture, making them unenjoyable to eat. Picking and chopping the leaves or needles of certain herbs is recommended, or, if adding herbs in whole, removing them before eating.
8. Not setting up a garbage or compost bowl
Having a compost bowl handy stops you from having to move back and forth from your cutting board to your garbage can or compost bin. Finding ways to economize on movement is a big part of the difference between an amateur and an experienced home cook. It also helps with the process of cleaning as you go, making it easier to enjoy your meal while it’s hot, without worrying about how much clean up will be left for you after.
9. Not cooking the pasta al dente
Noodles should be cooked about 1 or 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Slightly undercooking them allows them to be perfectly cooked by the time they finish cooking in the sauce.
10. Not having a sharp knife.
Having a sharp knife has a significant effect on the appearance of your ingredients. Dull knives can bruise your herbs, make it difficult to cut your vegetables or proteins, and are actually more dangerous to use. Sharp knives make cooking easier, faster and safer, which all lead to your happiness in the kitchen. Tip: most knife or kitchen supply stores offer knife sharpening!