Cooking is a game of learning. And if you cook often, you're probably constantly discovering new tricks, adjustments, and methods that make an enormous difference in the quality of your food. So Redditor u/CaptainWisconsin asked, "What extremely simple but often overlooked cooking tip/hack makes all the difference?" — and here's what people said.
1."For me, it’s mise en place. I get so stressed out easily when cooking, and preparing and laying out my ingredients in advance really helps me."
2."Make sure to actually get the pan hot before putting food in it. Lots of flavor comes from the physical reactions between food and a hot pan or grill. For most things, if it doesn't hiss and sizzle when it goes into the pan, then you're cheating yourself out of huge concentrations of flavor."
3."When you're making meatballs, season the entire batch of raw meat. Then cook one tiny 'tester' meatball. Taste it, and adjust the seasoning in the larger batch if it's needed."
4."When baking, freeze butter and grate it with a microplane. It's the easiest way to get very fine pieces of cold butter that distribute evenly into your dough."
5."Often when people are looking for additional seasoning, what they really need is a hit of acid. Instead of adding more salt to a dish, try brightening things up with a squeeze of lemon/lime or some kind of vinegar."
6."I used to think bacon should go straight into a piping hot pan, but mine always came out tasting boiled and limp. I didn't understand why it wasn't crispy. But then I learned that just placing those bacon strips in a room temperature pan and gradually raising the heat ensures it comes out crispy every time. A lot of people may think you can just fry up bacon in a couple of minutes, but in actuality, good, crispy bacon takes at least 15-20 minutes."
7."Adding some of the pasta water back into your pasta sauce. Just a quarter or half cup is all you need. The starch from the water will help the sauce emulsify and stick to the noodles."
8."Pounding chicken breast to a uniform thickness before you cook them. It makes them cook more evenly."
9."Dry the surface of your food to absorb any excess moisture if you want it to sear well. Lots of people take this step for granted and wonder why their food doesn't come out golden brown!"
10."There is no such thing as cooking wine. Don't cook with a wine that you wouldn't drink on its own. You don't have to spend a ton, but cooking with quality drinking wine (even a $12 bottle) adds much more flavor to a dish."
11."Removing food from the heat source once it's done cooking. Things like meat and eggs continue to cook even after you remove them from the oven or take them off the grill/stove. Remove your food from the heat before it's done cooking, and let it rest. It will reach the desired consistency rather than taste overcooked."
12."The more you process or crush garlic, the stronger the flavor becomes in your dish."
13."Oven temperatures and controls are always wildly inaccurate. Get an oven thermometer, and figure out how hot it really gets — you'd be shocked at just how 'off' it is."
14."Lots of people just cook ground beef until it’s no longer pink and it starts to turn grey, but try letting it cook for longer (to the point that you fear it might even overcook). I find that really nicely browned ground beef is much, much tastier for your tacos, sauces, etc."
15."Don't overcrowd the pan. If you crowd the pan, you will steam your food instead of browning it. When you give your food the space it needs in order to achieve that golden-brown crust, you achieve the Maillard reaction, which makes food taste better."
16."You can almost always swap chicken stock for water to impart extra flavor in whatever it is you're cooking."
17."Cooking pasta for the last couple of minutes in the sauce. I traveled to Italy last year, and it made me understand what al dente is actually supposed to taste like, and also why you want to cook pasta in the sauce at the end. It totally changed my pasta game for the better."
18."Coat baked goods with granulated sugar instead of flour. Whenever I bake, I always grease my pans, but instead of using flour to coat the pan, I use granulated sugar. It makes the edges of whatever I'm baking sweet and crunchy, and saves me from needing to use extra icing or frosting."
19."Resisting the urge to flip food while cooking. The best thing you can do for your meats is leave them alone. After you put it in the pan, on the grill, or whatever, don't touch it. Do not poke, probe, press, squeeze, lift, turn, or anything else until it is time to flip it. Moving it will cause the juices to leak out and disrupt the cooking process, leaving your meat dry and flavorless."
20."Keeping notes about the recipes I make. I jot down the quantities of ingredients I used, how many servings it made, and helpful pointers about the cooking process. I also rate recipes so I know which to make again. You can improve on them by changing a few variables at a time, and when you make it again in a month or in a year, you'll know exactly how to do it."
21."Always brine your meats, especially chicken. Your food will taste so much juicier and more flavorful after brining, even if you're not using the highest-quality meat."
22."Always deglaze the pan to take advantage of any fond left behind. That's pure flavor."
23."Always toast your hamburger buns. Smear a little Duke's mayo on them first, then sprinkle some garlic powder seasoning, then toast them in a pan until nice and golden."
24."Add tomato paste to sautéed onions and garlic, allow it to cook and stick to the pan, then deglaze it. It will add tremendous flavor to your dish and taste as if it’s been slow cooking all day. It's especially delicious for tomato sauces, etc…"
25."Treat temperature as if it were an ingredient. Follow the recipe instructions. A pan that's too hot or too cold will result in bad food or, at the very least, a dish that isn't cooked properly."
26."Use kosher salt (or Maldon flakes) over other kinds of salt like iodized. This lets you adjust the amount of salt better because the flakes are bulkier, so it's harder to overdo it."
27."Monter au beurre, aka whisk cold butter into your sauces to finish them for a beautiful glossy finish. It’s the reason why almost all sauces you have at a restaurant just taste better."
28."Always start cooking mushrooms in a dry pan for a few minutes to get some of the moisture out before adding oil or butter. They brown so much better this way."
29."Taste everything as you cook, not just the finished recipe. Try all the spices, salt, and pepper separately before you add them to your dish. Don't let one bad ingredient ruin your meal."
30."Roast vegetables for longer than you might think necessary. I used to hate roasted veggies because they’d either be hard and undercooked or mushy. Then, I realized you just need to cook them for even longer so that they transcend the mushy stage, the moisture is removed, and they begin to brown."
31."Toast ingredients before cooking with them. Think: spices, oats for oatmeal, flour for roux, arborio rice for risotto, and nuts going into anything. It does wonders for the flavor."
What's an underrated tip that has made a major difference in your cooking? Tell us in the comments!
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