Cook Like a Pro at Home

15 Things you can do to cook like a 3-star chef in your own kitchen!

– “The green beans are $14? How could they charge that much? Are they dipping them in gold or something? –

We’ve all been there. The food is way more expensivethan you want it to be, but when it arrives, suddenly it’s all worth it. “I’ve never made a green bean that good!” might be a true statement, but it doesn’t have to be true for long. The techniques being use in the worlds best kitchens can include some very complicated processes and science, but most dishes are still made using a combination of techniques that you can learn at home with minimal equipment.

  1. Salt

Salt isn’t a technique, but it is the biggest difference between the food you eat at a restaurant and the food you make for yourself. The food may not taste any saltier, and it may not be. The reason why restaurant food often tastes better than your own down-home cooking is because salt is used in every part of the dish, not just on top. 

Next time you make pasta try making your water as “salty as the sea” before adding the noodles. If your flame grilled filet is flavorful enough, sprinkle a little flake salt on top. When cooking from scratch or with low-salt ingredients, make sure you salt every layer of the dish, tasting as you go to ensure you don’t go overboard.

2.  Broil It!

Almost every professional kitchen has a broiler. It’s how they make super-fast nachos, melt up your french onion soup, or even get a good sear on the outside of a piece of meat. If you’ve got an oven, chances are it has a seldom-used broil setting – try it out! 

The broiler gets super hot, so make sure you have hood fans on and a well-ventilated kitchen. And keep an eye on your food! In the broiler, things happen fast. Your toast can go from golden-brown to burnt in a matter of seconds, so be careful!

3. Get Your Own Flat Top!

Stove-top griddles are fairly common, but few people use them fo anything other than pancakes and eggs. A large cooking surface provides certain advantages over a frying pan that can make all the difference when cooking some dishes. 

Are your homemade cheeseburgers really… wet? Cooking them on a big piece of steel allows the cooking surface to stay a consistent temperature to get a good sear and cook of more of the juices that come out. Fried rice always mushy? A flat top might solve your problem! The huge surface area will stay hot and cook every grain of rice without steaming it too much. Even toast tastes better coming off of a flat top! If you don’t have one yet, options today are plentiful and inexpensive.

4. Add lemon juice to everything.

Okay, well, not everything. But almost everything. Seriously. This is a technique I learned working in nicer kitchens that has become essential in most of my dishes. It’s not necessarily lemon juice every time – I use lots of vinegars and other fruits as well – but maintaining a good level of acidity in a dish is something that most home cooks don’t think about. 

Green vegetables benefit particularly from lemon juice. Stir fry some broccoli and garlic, make sure its good and salty, and then hit it with a squeeze of lemon juice before it gets out of the pan. It’s a whole new vegetable! Why doesn’t your grilled salmon salad “pop”? Try carefully applying a dose of lemon juice. I truly cannot stress enough that almost every time I made a vegetable, sauce or dessert in a professional kitchen I used lemon (or vinegar). Balance in food is key, and that’s why the best restaurants pay careful attention to the acidity of each dish.

5. Sous Vide

The sous vide machine, not used by many outside of the industry, is a truly magical piece of equipment. It heats a water bath up to a selected temperature and maintains that temperature consistently for as long as is needed. Simply insert your ingredients into a vacuum sealed bag and submerge in the water. 

A sous vide machine will revolutionize your steak game. Cook the steak in the sous vide with aromatics until it almost reaches the internal temperature you desire, then quickly sear the sides of the steak in a hot pan before resting. This is probably the most expensive technique to practice on this list, but in my opinion, it will yield you the biggest noticeable difference in your home cooking – a foolproof way to cook your filet.

6. Spoon Push

Have you ever wondered why the pureè underneath your steak looks like someone vomited it onto the plate? The answer is simple – you need to do a spoon push. Spread your sauce around the rim of your bowl or push a streak across the middle. Simply put a scoop of a viscous sauce or puree where you want to start the smear and press the bottom of the spoon into it lightly. Spread the sauce in the direction that you want – rotate the plate or bowl with your other hand if you want to spread it on the rim, maintaining enough pressure to spread the sauce evenly until the end. You can make a straight line, a half-moon, even a nike swoosh if you want. It’s all about presenting the main part of the dish as elegantly as possible!

7. Grease, lots of Grease

We all eat too much sometimes, but there’s a special kind of “full” that one experiences after a huge restaurant meal. The portions looked smaller, but you’re way more stuffed than usual. The answer? Probably butter. High quality, healthier oils such as olive, avocado and canola are common for frying and sautéing everywhere, but in many western cultures, butter is ubiquitous. Restaurant’s I’ve worked at usually used at least 25 pounds of it every week. That steak? Basted in butter. The Mashed potatoes? Extra butter. The buffalo wings are better than usual? You guessed it – butter. It’s not good for you, but it works.

8. Deglaze!

That brown stuff that’s sticking to the bottom of the sauté pan? That’s where the flavor is. But how do you get it off? It’s easy, you deglaze the pan. Just pour some liquid (wine, beer, vinegar, anything flavorful). You don’t have to use a lot, just enough to soften the fond and scrape it off the bottom of the pan and incorporate back into the mix. If you leave it all in the pan, you’re missing out on a layer of flavor that can really kick your dinner up another notch.

9. Blanche Your Veggies

Blanche your green veggies, don’t boil them. Not only does this technique allow the vegetables to retain more of their nutrients than boiling, it locks in the bright green color as well. Don’t grill your asparagus until its burnt, give it a quick water blanch then finish cooking them on the grill! to blanch a vegetable, get a big pot of salty water, bring it to a boil, and submerge your veggies in the water for a short time. Take them out and immediately put them into a bath of ice water and leave them there until cool. Blanche them longer for softer veggies and shorter for firmer veggies, and remember that different veggies take different amounts of time to cook. Green beans may take up to five minutes, while broccoli only takes two. The blanching time of all your favorite veggies is readily available on the internet, so don’t worry!

10. Taste As You Go

This may just be the most important technique on this list. Tasting is another technique that’s not really a technique, but more of a basic practice in professional cooking. I’ll bet you can conjure an image of an Italian grandma taking the spoon out of the red sauce and sipping from it. It’s not gross, it’s just how the best food gets made. Every high-end restaurant you go to has a kitchen full of chefs taking tiny bites of food all night long. Don’t wait until your food is on the plate and dump a bunch of table salt on top, taste your food every step of the way through your recipe and make sure things stay seasoned and tasty. Obviously you shouldn’t taste your raw chicken, but you can taste the marinade. Is your meatball spicy enough? Cook up a tester and be sure of it. Oh, and if you’re not cooking for yourself, remember to use a clean spoon every time!

11. Mise En Place

Literally French for “things in place”, is standard practice in all kitchens around the world. Dumping a few things in a crockpot and walking away is easy, but if you want to make something a little more involved, is helps to have your miss en place. 

Before you even think about cooking, get all your ingredients out and in front of you. Measure out the amounts you need and transfer them to containers. Cut your veggies and set them aside. Dice your aromatics and have them at the ready. Get your steaks tempered and primed for the pan. Before you actually let the meat hit the metal, you need to have everything prepared for the execution of your entire recipe. This will ensure you have enough time to focus on making whatever your cooking as delicious as possible. It sounds complicated, but it makes things simple.

12. Temper

We’ve all taken a piece of meat out of the fridge, slapped it on the grill and cut into it only to find it’s still raw in the middle. The first step you can take to prevent this is to temper your meat. Remove your meat from the fridge about an hour before cooking and allow it to come up to room temperature before putting it on the heat. This will leave your pan or grill with half the work it would have to do if the meat started out at 34 degrees and far less if it was frozen. An even cook equals a better steak – and tempering your meat takes another variable out of that equation.

13. Use Fresh Ingredients

This is probably a given, but it needs to be said nonetheless. A tasty, fresh vegetable or cut of meat gives your dinner a figurative shoulder to lean on. You can undercook your carrots, but at least they wont be soggy, recently-thawed and bland. There’s no reason to buy an unreasonably expensive bag of frozen potato product when you can do so much with a dirt cheap raw russet. Freezing meat and fish can offer certain benefits with a diminished effect on quality, but fresh is always best. It’s summer and there’s no Brussels sprouts on the shelves? Try something in-season instead! You may even find that you like some vegetables more than you thought you did before.

14. Braise That S**t

Do you want a tender, fall off the bone pulled pork sandwich but don’t have a smoker? No problem! Just braise it. Braising is among the laziest of all cooking techniques, but it results in some of the most delicious food. Just cover your pork shoulder in a flavorful, seasoned liquid like stock or beer and simmer at a very low temperature till the cows come home. 

Braising meats and meat substitutes for a long period of time not only breaks them down, making them more tender, but also lets the flavor of the braising liquid fully infuse with the ingredients in the pot. If you’ve used a crockpot to make something other than soup, chances are you’ve already braised some meat. It’s a great low-effort option that most home cooks haven’t even considered.

15. Dehydrate

Ok – this might be lazier than braising – but it’s not really cooking. Dehydrating your ingredients can be much more than just a way to preserve your veggies and herbs, it can transform your ingredients into something completely new – Dehydrate your home-grown chili peppers to make a delicious powder for your winter chili. Marinate and dehydrate some pork loin and shred it to make Chinese pork floss. Dehydrate out very thin slices of citrus to create an elegant cocktail garnish and grind the peel up to use in a seasoning mix. You can do dehydrate in your oven, but home dehydrators are widely available, not too pricey and make the process much more efficient.

Now that you’re equipped with a few more ways to take your homemade meal to the next level, go forth into the kitchen and practice! Most of these techniques can sound difficult to those who are beginner cooks, but with just a little practice they can be mastered by just about anyone. Good luck and remember to taste your food!

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