Many family chefs are in a constant search for that perfect ingredient–the one thing that will make their dishes out-of-this-world and satisfy their hungry relatives.
Instead of trying to find “it,” I have a simpler solution. These are five super-easy tactics that can make almost anything taste better, richer, more filling, and absolutely delicious. Think of these as 5 kitchen habits you should learn and keep in your culinary tool belt forever.
1. Stock. Almost anything that you use water for can be done with stock instead. (Or broth–technically different, but most people use the terms interchangeably.)
Stock can be pre-made from chicken, meat or vegetables, or it can be purchased at the supermarket in a ready-to-go form.
The beautiful thing about stock is that it can lend rich, full flavor to something that would otherwise need additional work from other sources. Examples of things I cook in or with stock include: rice, quinoa, soups, stews, and sauces.
2. Seasonings. Talking about seasonings could be a college course on its own (and probably is, in culinary school), but I think we can all agree that all foods could use some degree of seasoning.
My only personal rules for seasoning foods are as follows:
- The dish can probably use more seasoning than I think.
- Salt goes well on just about everything when used in moderation.
- Traditional pairings for traditional dishes.
- Experimental pairings or a “punch” of one spice for experimental dishes.
I personally favor aromatic, rich seasonings like rosemary and oregano, or cumin or curry for certain other dishes, but your palette may dictate otherwise. However you choose to season your dish, it can be a simple and inexpensive way to add a lot of flavor without a lot of effort.
3. Butter. Depending on the health “expert” you decide to listen to, butter is either the worst thing you can eat, the best thing since sliced bread, or something in between. If you agree with the latter two or are simply indifferent, your food could use a little buttery augmentation.
The richness of butter and its effect on food is undeniable, and the restaurant industry has known and used this fact for decades. They slab on unbelievable amounts of butter on everything from your steak to your vegetables. Butter can be mixed with aromatics like seasonings or garlic to make a delicious topping.
4. Cooking time. Adjusting cooking time by over-cooking or under-cooking things when compared to your standard M.O. can be a very simple way to change the flavor profiles of your dishes.
For example, slow cooking meats at low temperatures for long periods of time can create tender, juicy cuts that fall apart at the slightest touch. Under-cooking vegetables can add a bit of crunch and flavor to something that’s typically viewed as a side show on the plate.
5. Presentation. They say that food that looks great also tastes great as a result, and they are doing the research to prove it. Restaurant food can be easily replicated at home when it comes to taste, but it’s the presentation that gives family chefs a challenge.
By using garnishes, careful and creative plating, small portions, and thought-out arrangements, you can make the simplest and easiest of dishes look like a work of art, and demonstrate more clearly than anything else you can do that you care about and love your food and the people you make it for.
Making these 5 things a habit in the kitchen has made a world of difference in almost everything I cook. Seeing if they work for you can take your dishes from mediocre to outstanding in a hurry!