I am not a Master Chef. I am not even a chef. I am just a home cook that likes to experiment in the kitchen. Growing up, we had a bookcase full of cookbooks and cooking magazines and as soon as cartoons were over on Saturday mornings the TV was switched to PBS for cooking shows (yes, kiddies, back in “the day” we only had cartoons on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons.). Today, I only have a small shelf of cookbooks, but a whole lot of internet bookmarks and e-books, and my DVR has a plethora of Cooking Channel shows recorded. The correlation between these seemingly unrelated thoughts is my belief that “experience is the best teacher, when it is someone else’s experience.”
Here’s a partial list of some of the wisdom I have picked up from professional chefs through the years. Note that the cookbook or webpage linked is not necessarily where I obtained the tip, but it is a representative work of the person I got the idea from (for example, the comment from Jeff Smith was something he said on his show repeatedly and may or may not be mentioned in the cookbook).
- Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet: Don’t pass on your food prejudices to your children.
- Julia Child, My Life in France: Never apologize to your guests (or family) if a dish doesn’t live up to your expectations. It forces your guest to say something nice even if the dish is awful. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- Buddy Valastro, Cake Boss: Stories and Recipes from Mia Famiglia: Scrape and stir, stir and scrape. There is a reason recipes tell you to mix for a certain length of time or for example, until the butter and sugar are creamy. Take the extra time and run the mixer for as long as it says. And stop occassionally to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. You will be amazed at the difference in the results.
- Emeril Lagasse, Emeril’s There’s a Chef in My Soup! Recipes for the Kid in Everyone, the opposite advice of Buddy Valastro above, some things you do not want to overmix – biscuits, muffins and meatballs in particular. Moisten the ingredients, accept that they maybe lumpy and move on. Overmixing will make them tough.
- Carol Ramos, The Pastry Chef: Line your baking pans with aluminum foil to make removing your cakes or brownies easier. Invert the pan, place foil shiny side down on the pan to get the shape then remove, flip the pan over and put the foil inside then oil and flour as called for in the recipe. (Carol, I think you got this from a cookbook, but I couldn’t find the original blog on the topic.).
- Ming Tsai, Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai, to make flaky pastry dough (pie crust, puff pastry, etc) freeze the fat first then use a food processor, electric mixer or pastry cutter to mix. Warming the fat, even from the heat of your hands, will make the dough tough.
- Paul Prudhomme, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen: the simplest, quickest and possibly most dangerous way to make a good roux is to heat the pan first. He gets it scorching hot, then adds the fat which will melt almost instantly and then adds the flour, cook to required doneness for the recipe, remove from heat and adds the liquid. The key is to have all ingredients measured and handy. And make sure you don’t have any little sous chefs in the kitchen at the time – it can splatter. I use this method exclusively when making white sauce (for mac and cheese) and gravy. It takes only a few minutes and I have not had it fail once.
- Lydia Bastianich, Lidia’s Italy in America: when making bread or cracker crumbs for a recipe such as crab cakes that has crumbs inside for a binder and is then coated in crumbs, crush the bread/crackers then pour them through a seive, use the small ones inside as the binder and use the coarser ones for coating.
- Ming Tsai, www.ming.com: Butterfly your meat to spead up cooking for a week night. Follow the link for a video of how to butterfly a pork roast. I always use this technique on chicken breasts, especially when grilling, to make them even so I don’t have overcooked spots on the end and undercooked in the middle.
- Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, and Emeril Lagasse: Jacques was on Simply Ming this season to demonstrate the proper way to “paner” (bread) meat/fish. Basically, dredge the meat in flour, then eggs (or butter!) then in bread crumbs. I am pretty sure I learned from an episode of Emeril Live! how to use your hands to do it – keep one hand for wet and one for dry to keep your fingers from getting sticky and cross contaminating the three pans. I pick up the meat with my left hand and put it in the flour, dredge it with my right and then transfer to the liquid, dredge with my left then move it to the bread crumbs, then finish with my right hand and remove to the pan.
- Too many chefs to list: roll the lemon before cutting it to squeeze it and then use a fork to help catch the pits.
Unknown – I cannot remember where I saw this tip, but it is fast and easy when you need a lot of pitted cherries for a recipe. Place cherry on top of a clean bottle (such as an old soy sauce or vinegar one) and poke the pit through using a chopstick.
Well, that’s all I can think of for now. I will post more as I think of them or other people share them (hint, hint).
Until next time, happy eating