10 Kitchen Habits to Live By
Cooking can often seem daunting to those who may be just starting to experiment, especially for teenagers who are heading off to college and figuring out how to be self-sufficient in the kitchen. To ease your stress, it is helpful to remember a simple list of easy, convenient, and extremely helpful habits that a new chef can get the hang of in the kitchen. Just like in life, a few small changes can make some of the biggest differences.
Whether you are a newbie cook or a seasoned chef, we should all practice the following list of kitchen habits:
Season your food at EVERY step
When starting a recipe by sautéing onions and garlic, or marinating your meat, or roasting your tofu always hit it with some salt and other seasonings before they are completely cooked. This allows for the flavors of the seasonings to penetrate the ingredients and really incorporate into a dish, instead of just being thrown on top at the end. You’ll be amazed at how that simple step can take a meal from 0 to 100.
- Cut ingredients uniformly
When cooking any ingredient you want all of it to be done cooking at the same time, because otherwise some bits might be burnt and some bits might be undercooked. You never want a nearly-raw carrot or a burnt carrot as a base for a soup or sauce, and making sure every piece is cut uniformly helps prevent that from happening! Using non-uniformly cut ingredients can really ruin a dish, especially if you are cooking something like chicken cubes, which are not even edible if undercooked. Next time you are chopping up ingredients to prep before you cook, pay extra attention to the size of each ingredient.
- Wait for your pan and oil to heat up
We all love that sizzle when something delicious hits a hot pan and crisps up. A hot pan is needed to achieve that perfect amount of browning and delicious crispness on most quintessential dishes, from bacon to fried eggs, and pancakes to fried fish. If you put your food in the pan before it is heated up, the food will soak up all the lukewarm oil, remain quite soggy, and never achieve that crisp, delicious bite you are looking for.
- Deglaze your pans
Have you ever sauteed onions or browned some ground beef and realized that the bottom of your pot of pan is covered in little crispy brown bits? Those are pieces of fat and FLAVOR that are left behind after sauteeing. If you want to feel fancy, this stuff is called “fond” and it means “base” in French. The French likely call it that because these bits of food on the bottom of your pot are really powerful flavor boosters. In order to harness their power just pour in some delicious liquid while the pan is still hot and watch it scoop up all of those bits. This ensures that your dish has a crazy flavorful base or sauce.
- Don’t rinse pasta
Pasta naturally releases starch as it cooks, and this starch is responsible for making things stick to your pasta. If you rinse your pasta after it is cooked all you succeed in doing is rinsing off all of that starch. Sadly, that lost starch is actually very helpful! This starch helps your sauce or cheese stick to your pasta, and really cling into all of its nooks and crannies. This is especially important when trying to cover slippery noodles like spaghetti with a rich sauce, like marinera, as starch binds the two together in a slurp-worthy bowl of sauced-up noodles.
- Remember food continues cooking after the heat is turned off
Have you ever cooked your scrambled eggs perfectly, plated them up, grabbed your sides, and then sat down to eat, only to realize your eggs are dry and overcooked? That is because many foods, especially those with protein, continue to cook after you take them out of the pan. This is because the proteins continue to hold heat and cook long after you have removed it from the original heat source. To avoid dry and overcooked fish, chicken, or eggs just be extra careful next time and remove those proteins just slightly before you think you should. If you follow that easy step your foods will be perfectly cooked by the time you are taking the first bite.
- Save veggie or meat scraps for stock
While this habit is fantastic for the environment, it is also fantastic for your wallet! Cooks can spend hundreds on store bought vegetable or chicken stock over the years, but it is practically the easiest thing to make on your own. When you chop veggies or make roasted chicken, save all of your delicious scraps to make your own stock, instead of purchasing the expensive, boxed stocks at the grocery store. From garlic peels and potato skins to chicken bones and kale stems, you can really throw anything into it! Simply save the scraps in a freezer bag and then when you have enough, add them all to a pot of boiling water for a few hours. The resulting liquid is a flavorful stock, useful for seasoning many of your dishes! If you want to learn more about this low-waste cooking, read this article.
- Sharp knives are safer than dull ones
If you are afraid of cutting yourself in the kitchen, especially if you are a rookie chef, using a less sharp knife may seem like the obvious solution. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Using a properly sharpened knife allows you to more easily slice through whatever you are cutting, helping prevent slips, slashes, and slides. By preventing those unexpected knife movements and reducing resistance you make it less likely that the knife will shift and cut you. Always remember that when it comes to kitchen knives: sharper = safer.
- Read the FULL recipe before starting
I absolutely hate when I am halfway through cooking or baking a new food and I get to a step in the recipe that tells me I need to have an ingredient reach room temperature (like eggs and butter) or let other ingredients rest overnight (like dough and pickles). That realization instantly stalls out your recipe and can sometimes mean you won’t be getting dinner or dessert on the table at all that night. To avoid this infuriating situation ALWAYS read through every step of a new recipe before beginning. If you follow this simple habit you will always know when a recipe calls for an overnight stage or if you need to set out some of your ingredients at room temperature before starting.
- Rinse your rice
While the starch from your pasta is something we wanted to stay ON your noodles, we want the starch from rice to stay OFF of your dish. When you rinse your rice you help clean off any debris, but most importantly you remove the surface starch from your rice. When cooking rice this surface starch is responsible for making it lumpy, gloopy, and stuck together. If you want luscious, defined grains of rice when it is done cooking you will always have to rinse it. Rice is quite a quintessential part of most complete meals, so it is important you know how to make it as delicious as possible. This easy added step will ensure a better pot of rice every time!
Now that you have a comprehensive list of ten easy kitchen habits to improve your cooking, you can feel even more confident entering the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes! Always remember to have fun in the kitchen, put love into whatever you are cooking, and stick these habits into your cooking routine for good.
If you use any of these tips and cook something you are really proud of, send us a picture @teeninsidermag.