4 Things That Will Make You A Better Cook, According to the Pros
Cooking is at the heart of most Southern homes. The ability to whip up a chicken dinner on a whim or dice Vidalia onions for a sauce is an incredibly useful skill and one that can be shared with friends, family, and anyone at a potluck. If you’re looking to improve your cooking—or want to find out some of the secrets of professional chefs— MasterChef Australia winner Adam Liaw, put together a list of four easy things that any cook can do to improve their cooking, including getting the right equipment and mastering the fundamentals.
Sharpen Your Knives
Sharpening knives tends to fall somewhere on the to-do list below cleaning the gutters or dusting the seashell soaps in the guest bathroom. Some of us haven’t sharpened knives since we unboxed the set we picked up at Costco. However, if you step into a restaurant kitchen, you’ll see chefs sharpening their knives before they start their day. A sharp blade helps you cut your ingredients, so your diced onions and carrots are actually diced instead of smooshed. Having the correct cuts helps create the food’s texture that can completely elevate a dish. Plus, as the pros at Wusthof note, a sharp knife is a safer knife, because you don’t have to use as much force when you chop. In short: start sharpening your knives.
If you have ever watched a cooking show, you’ve undoubtedly heard one of the judges take a bite of a dish, scowl, and say, “This needs more seasoning!” Seasoning is the foundation of a good dish: Too little and it’s bland, too much and it can be inedible. Mastering that balancing act can make a cook into a chef. In the South, seasoning starts with salt and pepper (and maybe hot sauce) but experimenting with seasoning from other parts of the world can make a dish even better. Try a dash of rice vinegar, soy sauce, or citrus to spark new flavors in your favorite foods.
Get to Know Umani
You may remember from elementary school health class, that our taste buds are equipped to experience four basic flavors: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. These days, though, scientists and chefs have added umami into the mix, a somewhat mysterious fifth taste that adds an earthy depth of flavor that packs a real punch. Umami, which takes its name from a Japanese word meaning “pleasant, savory taste” or “yummy,” is naturally occurring in foods. Things like sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, miso, anchovies, soy sauce, and dark browned meats. Mastering umami flavors can elevate cooking from good to amazing.
Make Things From Scratch
While it’s easy to swing by Publix and pick up dinner necessities, like grandma always said, homemade simply tastes best. Unfortunately, we don’t always have time to stir up a batch of barbecue sauce, make the pesto for the spaghetti from scratch, make strawberry-blueberry jam and biscuits for breakfast, or whip up a dozen potato rolls for hamburger night, when you take the time to do things the old-fashioned way, they taste so much better. If you’re looking for an easy way to start, try making stock. Save all your vegetable scraps and leftover bones in a bag in the freezer and when you have a few hours at home, put them all in a pot on the stove or in a slow cooker, cover with water and add garlic and peppercorns, and get cooking.
A few hours later you’ll have a rich, flavorful stock, perfect as the base for soups and stews, or as an addition to sauces, mashed potatoes, glazing vegetables, or anything that needs a little flavor boost.