There are a few rules I live by in the kitchen (and swear others should too).
- Don’t baby your meat. In fact, don’t touch it. Flavor = flavor in meat, and the more you move the meat while it’s cooking, the less brown it gets (it actually becomes just gray in color) and you don’t get that sear on the outside that adds flavor and texture. It’s not a baby, don’t hover over it. The general rule, is flip your meat once and only once. The meat will tell you when it’s ready – you should see on the sides how cooked through the meat is (especially chicken) so when it comes to 3/4 of the way cooked, flip it. Also, the meat will stop sticking to the pan when it’s ready to be flipped and has a good sear (just make sure your temperature is appropriate so that you don’t under/overcook). If you need to pop it in the oven to finish cooking, do that (that’s what restaurant chefs do anyway).
- Never put meat into a cold pan. It should sizzle when it goes into the pan. Otherwise it soaks up the oil like a sponge and you are left with greasy meat. Gross. Let the oil get nice and toasty. If you aren’t sure, (carefully) flick a little bit of water into the pan. If it pops, you’re ready. The only exception is duck (because of it’s thick fat layer).
- Never use metal utensils on your non-stick. Yes, non-stick should be indestructible. But it’s not. And nothing will ruin your nonstick quicker than metal scraping the bottom. When that happens, there’s no way you’ll get a pretty sear or keep those eggs from frustratingly sticking. There are rubber covered tools and ALWAYS resist cutting things while they are still in the pan.
- Season EVERY SINGLE element of your dish. Nothing irritates me more when a recipe doesn’t indicate when to season – especially if you were to watch a video of the chef making the dish, you would see that they season liberally at every stage. While you should bear in mind that all of these elements will come together in one cohesive dish eventually, each separate component should still be flavorful. What if someone were to just take a bit of your sauce, and not the vegetable or meat? Plus, it helps all of the items come together in a flavorful symphony.
- Use fresh herbage where you can. Some things like bay leaves are pretty damn difficult (and unnecessary) to use fresh, but your leafy herbs should always be fresh. You just get more flavor this way – not to mention it looks prettier (hello, we eat with our eyes first). For long simmered things, dried herbs are ok to add at the beginning to build flavor and slow-release, but you should always finish with something fresh to bring the vibrancy back. And most supermarkets carry pre-packaged fresh herbs now (so no, you don’t have to plant and tend to actual plants) – but be careful, since they don’t stay fresh for long. Along the same vein, when it comes to pepper, always freshly crack yours – don’t use the pre-ground pepper. Pepper is mostly oils, so once it is cracked/milled/powdered, you lose those oils. Peppercorns are easy to find in the supermarket (with grinders attached even!) and grinders are relatively cheap on their own too. This way you can change the fineness of your grind too (so if you want larger chunks for punch – like in a Caesar salad – you can, but if you want it to more melt into your dish, you can go super fine) It will change how you see pepper. Additionally – sea salt really should be saved for finishing (not cooked) since it is a delicate flavor, and I swear by Kosher salt for more flavor and less chemicals.
- Never use soap on a cast iron pan. Cast iron pans are known for being everlasting (why you probably received a dish passed down from your great great grandmother). They are also pretty heavy and can get SUPER HOT. The great thing about that is, they retain heat, you can go from stovetop to oven, and they cook evenly. Just BE CAREFUL not to touch it or its handle with your bare hands (I’ve made that mistake a few times). Why should you not use soap on it? Because it retains flavor really well, so you should season it instead of washing it. I know lots of people who will cook bacon in nothing but their cast iron to build the flavor up. And it really makes a difference. Whatever you cook in your cast iron will take on all that flavor and taste multi-dimensional and flavorful. Most people will scrape out all of the bits/hard matter and wipe clean with a paper towel. You can use water too if you want, but make sure you dry it really well so that you don’t rust your pan.
- Never pour liquor directly into a pan from the bottle. Why? Because the flame can jump into the bottle from the pan, explode the bottle, and burn the ever-living crap out of you. Just don’t do it. Pour what you need of the alcohol into a separate container, and add that to the pan. If you need more, re-fill that container first and use it. If you are flambeing something (you know, purposefully lighting stuff on fire), don’t blow into the pan. Just let the alcohol flame out. It’s supposed to be on fire for a reason. It will burn off with a little bit of a time. If it is a small flame, stirring will expedite this too (but be careful!).
- Deglaze like you mean it. I LOVE a good pan sauce, but it usually requires getting that frond off the bottom of the pan (the crunchy, caramely bits that only look burnt). Make sure you turn up your pan on medium-high/high, and use a wooden spoon to scrape, scrape, scrape up those bits while the liquid is cooking off. Your sauce will be the best they’ve ever eaten.