Cooking certainly isn’t rocket science, but it is a science. I learned quickly after ruining too many of my sautéed sauces with the burnt garlic or over-salting my share of soups, that though I loved cooking by instinct, some rules are there for a reason. There’s far too many “good rules” to list here, but these common mistakes can be easily avoided.
Here are 6 simple “rules” that are a good thing to follow as the alchemist in you comes out in the kitchen.
Always cut ingredients the same size if you want them to cook evenly and be done at the same time. So, if I’m making vegetable soup for instance I’ll dice the potatoes, carrots, squash, or other vegetables a similar size. This way the potatoes won’t be mushy while the squash is still hard.
Add ingredients with the longest cooking times first and ones with shorter cooking times later. Common sense yes, but often forgotten when working with ingredients with different cooking times in the same dish – whether it’s sauteed dish, roast, soup or stew.
Add most fresh herbs at the end. Leafy fresh herbs like basil, parsley, mint, sage and so on will turn brown and slimy when cooked and no one wants them swimming around in their sauce like that. To infuse a sauce, stew or soup with fresh herbs, add them with their stalks so you can easily pull them out before serving, or tie them with butcher’s twine. Add chopped herbs as a garnish in the finished dish so that you get their aromatic and health benefits full strength in all their colorful splendor.
Never add chopped garlic to hot oil without being ready to follow immediately with a cold or room temperature ingredient. This is because the garlic will burn quickly unless something brings down the temperature of the pan. So if I’m making an oil and garlic sauce, for instance, I’ll add the garlic to the oil and cook it for about 15 seconds – or just until it begins to color – then immediately follow with a splash of broth, wine or cold butter and then lower (or take the pan off ) the heat for a moment or two.
Always under season. You can always add more but you can’t take it away.
Always lean toward undercooking something. Like the above rule. you can always cook it longer. This is especially helpful when cooking chicken, pork or turkey. We are terrified of undercooking them and getting someone (or yourself) sick that we tend to overcook them. Instead take it out before you think it’s done, cut into the meat, or better yet use a food thermometer and stick it into the center and get an exact read. If you need to cook it 10 or 20 minutes longer…so be it…but it won’t taste like shoe leather.
Hope these are helpful for you. Let me know in the comments below.
Let me know if there’s something else that always seems to sabotage your cooking efforts. I’d love to help.