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Having been raised on bland dinners and boiled-to-oblivion vegetables, I didn’t know a whole lot about flavour growing up. But three years ago, I started dating a chef, and boy, have my senses been reawakened.
Here, 10 kitchen hacks I learned from my boyfriend, the chef, that can make any cook so much better.
1. Cook with your senses.
Trust yourself over any recipe. As you’re cooking, taste everything to know what you want more or less of. When the sizzle sound slows, flip the steak. And, if you aren’t sure whether two ingredients will pair well together, smell them together first. If their aromas are complementary, their flavours should be too.
2. When using garlic, chop—don’t press.
It might save you time, but when garlic is pressed, it releases sulfur compounds, making it taste and smell sulfuric. So, be gentle with it. After you peel it, slice along its tiny grooves with the point of your knife. Then, slice through the centre, and chop into smaller pieces.
3. Ditch the nonstick pan.
When it comes to meat, nonstick pans can’t take the heat. I learned this the hard way after searing a chicken breast in a nonstick pan and having my parents’ kitchen fill up with smoke. Instead, opt for a cast iron pan, which is built to withstand the high temperatures you need to get a perfect sear.
4. Use stock instead of water.
One of the simplest ways to give grains like barley and rice more flavour is to cook them in stock rather than in water. Try chicken, beef, vegetable or mushroom stock to take your grains from meh to mmmm.
5. Add oil to keep butter from burning
Butter has a low smoke point, meaning it burns at a low temperature. To avoid starting off on a burnt foot, just add a tiny drop of olive oil (any oil will do) to the pan with your melting butter. The oil raises the butter’s smoke point.
6. Colour your meats.
Whether you’re roasting a chicken or searing a steak, make sure your meats turn a deep amber colour. As my boyfriend says, “That’s the colour of flavour.” As for fruits and vegetables, burnt isn’t always a bad thing. Try charring green onions on the grill, or burning peaches in a cast iron.
7. Save time with a soffrito.
This sauce base involves gently cooking aromatics (like garlic and shallots) in olive oil. Make it in large batches and keep it in the fridge for when you need to make sauce or amp up a vinaigrette.
8. Add hard herbs first, soft herbs last.
Fresh herbs work wonders on just about anything. But there’s a time and place for each. Add “hard” herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and savory during the cooking process (as they can withstand the heat). But save “soft” herbs, like chives, parsley and basil for the very end.
9. Let your meats "rest."
After cooking any meat, let it sit on the cutting board before serving. This gives proteins time to reabsorb their juices (their flavour) that would otherwise ooze out onto your plate upon slicing. Let a steak rest for about 12 minutes, chicken for five, pork chops for eight, and fish for two or three.
10. Finish with lemon.
“It’s all about acidulation, babe,” says my boyfriend. A few drops of lemon will brighten up the flavour of just about everything. But only do this at the very end—the longer lemon juice cooks, the more sweet than sour it becomes.