Game-changing cooking school tips and tricks that you need to know too
As someone who has taken a course or two in her time, I can assure you that cooking school is not just about learning to master challenging recipes. It's largely about learning techniques for working in the kitchen — how to work efficiently and safely — to end up with the best result possible with the least waste all around. Whether you're a chef, professional cook or whether you just need to feed yourself every day (allllll of us), who couldn't use that kind of training? In case you're not running out and enrolling in a culinary arts course tomorrow, here's a list of techniques and hacks that the pros use, ones that will definitely improve your cooking experience too.
First up, some best practices...
Set up a mise en place. This simply means gathering everything you need and measuring it out before you start cooking, even the spices! It may seem like a questionable priority for a home cook, especially when it's six o'clock and you're ravenous, but trust us, it will help things will run smoother in the long run. Plus, it means no more dirty fingerprints left on cupboard doors as you scramble for ingredients before the garlic burns.
Two tasting spoons is all you need. Rather than stick your finger in the pot, do as the pros do and taste with two spoons, preferably unalike so you don't mix them up. Dip the first one into the food, transfer the contents to spoon number two, and put that one in your mouth. Repeat this as many times as required. Bonus: less spoons to clean at the end.
Stabilize bowls and cutting boards. This is about more than just about convenience, it's done for safety too. Avoid stirring bowls set directly on the countertop; instead, coil a moistened dish towel tightly around the base. Keep cutting boards securely positioned with a damp dish cloth or paper towel flat underneath.
Clean as you go. Sure, it may sound obvious, but it can be a tricky habit to get into. Fill up the sink before you start cooking and set out a compost bucket or a waste bowl to collect all the trimmings. Rinse dirty dishes immediately and load them in the dishwasher. A clean workspace will help you focus on the task at hand.
...and some tips and tricks you should know
Meat releases from the pan when it's properly browned. Don't tug or force it up with a spatula. If there's any resistance, leave it. It's ready when it lifts easily.
You are the master of your heat. It's easy to forget a recipe is only a guideline. If the pan or the oven is too hot, turn it down, regardless of what the instructions say.
A dough scraper is your BFF. Use it to move ingredients from the cutting board to the pot, to clean the counter after rolling pie crust, or to portion dough.
A knife is an extension of your hand, so use a size that feels comfortable and makes sense for the task when you reach for one.
Grind your own Parmesan cheese in a food processor with the blade attachment. It'll be fresher than the pre-ground stuff, and you'll know for certain what goes into it. Read this article about what's been showing up in pre-ground cheese and you'll understand the benefit of that!
Microplanes are genius sticks. No need for a garlic press when you can shred cloves down to a paste on this multipurpose gadget. It's great for zesting lemons and grating Parmesan and nutmeg too.
Cream sauce hates cold plates. Warm plates in the oven to prevent sauces from clumping. In fact, most hot food benefits from a warm plate, so make the extra effort if you've got the time.
Peeling is not just for carrots. Sometimes celery and fennel need it too. Rather than dispose of the tough ends, use a vegetable peeler to expose their delicate and totally useable flesh.
Oil your hands when rolling out meatballs and other sticky dough. The slick surface makes the job much easier.
Skin toasted hazelnuts with a (clean) tea towel. Wrap the nuts up inside the towel and give them a good rub. They will separate from their skin. Open the towel carefully and lift the nuts out.
Dry baking sheets in the oven. After washing, pop them back into a cooling oven and let residual heat and evaporation work their magic. Just don't forget to take them out before you bake again.
Wash a dirty blender with a soap and water blitz. As soon as you're done with the blender, fill it halfway with warm, soapy water and turn it on again. It'll clean itself, as long as the food hasn't had time to dry.