Wouldn’t it be great to have Fernand Point, Julia Child or Blend’s Josh and Whitney playing sous chef for your big holiday event? While we could all live to a dream a little, now is a great time to sharpen up those skills (and learn a few new ones) before dishing up all those holiday meals you have planned. Below are some of our favorite chef hacks from the experts.
Love Your Lemon and Salt
Award winning culinary writer Rowley Leigh notes, “The biggest difference between professional and amateur cooking is the seasoning.” When cooking, bring out the flavors of the food with salt from the beginning, instead of seasoning with salt as an afterthought.
If you over-salt your dish
- Add bulk (for a stew, maybe add barley or rice)
- Add an acidic like lemon or oil
- Mute it with fat (butter or oil will soften the intensity)
Using citrus to your advantage
- Clean your dishes with lemons at home.
- Warm lemons and oranges to get more juice out of them
Mis en place
Mis en place is a french term referring to a proper first step of cooking: have all your ingredients prepped (washed, cut and measured) before beginning to cook. This is one of the first things all professionally trained chefs will learn.
Savor the Skins and Leaves
Modern chefs opt to keep potato skins in mashed potatoes for that rustic, home-cooked aesthetic. But using skins don’t have to stop there! Save time and get more nutrients by using the whole vegetable in your recipes. Give this a try with eggplants, cucumbers, carrots and other vegetables with nutritious skins. When cooking with roots vegetables and other garden favorites like celery and broccoli, use the whole vegetable. Not only does it save time, but it makes more a much more nutritious meal.
Think of All the Zesty Possibilities! (yes, all the things you can zest)
Citrus – great for marinades, dressings, finishing sauces
Ginger – makes life much easier
Chocolate – finishing braised wild game dishes with a little zested dark chocolate helps add depth to the sauce OR you can get a specific chocolate zester which can make nice chocolate curls for decorating desserts.
Garlic – marinades, dressings, sautés, infused oil & butter sauces
Minced garlic is a staple for packing tons of flavor into quick meals. But the actual method of mincing is a pain. We have good news, you don’t actually have to mince your garlic. Instead, invest in a Microplane grater, it is so much faster than a knife, and it’s safer too! Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia is a huge fan of this tool for it’s versatility.
Extra Tip: Smash the garlic with the side of your knife for the same result.
Learn One Recipe (and skill) Really Well
You don’t have to memorize dozens of recipes to be respected as a chef. At home, learn one dish extremely well (even if that means taking a class or two on spices!) and you can take a stab at perfecting it to pass down to the next generation. Josh grew up eating Israeli food, and it it has influenced much of his cooking style and interests.
Extra Tip: Start looking at recipes from your family’s cuisine.
The Skill For the Top Chefs in the Classes Sous Vide (most advanced)
Sous vide is a French term meaning, “under pressure”. This cooking technique saves you a lot of time and takes the guessing game out of the picture on when a piece of meat is done to your liking. For sous vide cooking, you need:
- a circulator, which is the piece of equipment that circulates the water and keeps the water at the exact temperature that you set it to, and
- a simple vacuum seal machine, such as the Foodsaver.
For example, if you want to cook the perfect pork chop or ribeye steak, you would vacuum seal the meat in the bag with whatever marinade or seasonings you would like, then add the vacuum sealed meat to the water bath with the circulator attached to it and set to the exact temperature that you would like the piece of meat done to and in a hour or under, you have a perfectly cooked piece of meat.
You can also sous vide vegetables, fish and poultry. Sous vide allows you to cook a lot of food in advance and then freeze it in the vacuum sealed bags for later times and all you need to do is just pull the meat out of the freezer before you want to eat it and either re sear, re grill or bake to eat and enjoy!
The Simple yet Essential Skill: Straight From Whitney
“Adding one of these garnishes to a salad will always make it delicious”:
- Nut (roasted & salted)
- Season your greens with salt & pepper before dressing your salad
“With these 4 items you can have endless combinations that go well with both fruit centered salads OR vegetable centered salads”
Mixed greens, apples, pistachios(nut), gruyere (cheese), avocado, red onion, white balsamic vinaigrette
Romaine, tomatoes, cucumber, radish, sunflower seeds (nut), feta (cheese), avocado, red onion, oregano & basil vinaigrette
The Skill You Didn’t Think You Needed: Straight From Josh
“I learned to deseeding pomegranates properly from my family growing up.”
- Cut pomegranate into quarters
- Fill up bowl of cold water
- Turn pomegranate with seeds facing water, hit the back of the pomegranate (skin side) with the back of a spoon until the seeds fall into the water
- If any pith is left over it will float to the top of the water for easy cleaning