If you’re just beginning to learn the art of cooking, then you may fall victim to a number of myths and misconceptions. Having just one of these bad habits may result in the dish you’ve been working so hard on getting completely ruined. Some of these may be tougher to break than others, but you’d need to if you ever want to become a more effective cook. The following article lists seven of the habits you must break if you want to become a better cook.
The first bad habit you have to break in the kitchen is not properly heating up the cooking surface you’re about to use. This applies to everything from pans to roasting trays, and even grills. This may seem like a tedious step for more inexperienced cooks, but it remains a necessary one. If you don’t properly preheat your cooking surface, you’re risking your food being unevenly cooked, or worse, burnt to a crisp. Adding your ingredients to something that’s not properly heated may also cause them to stick or lose their seasoning.
When you’re preheating, you should also make sure that you don’t overheat. This especially applies for heating up oil in a pan. Seeing smoke coming from your pan doesn’t mean that it’s ready for cooking. You might as well get rid of it if you see wisps of smoke. If you heat oil up to or past its smoke point – a temperature range at which a particular type of oil begins to show smoke – it starts to taste bad. Aside from altering the taste of the oil, overheating may also cause it to lose beneficial antioxidants and develop harmful compounds instead.
Too Many Ingredients in the Pan
The next bad cooking habit you have to break is putting too many ingredients into whatever it is you’re cooking on. You should also avoid stirring your food too much, as this may cause ingredients to be undercooked or to not develop much color and texture. Having a little patience when you cook helps add flavor and crispiness to ingredients such as meats. It might be tempting to keep on stirring and stirring in order to avoid overcooking. Be careful though, if you leave what you’re cooking on a hot pan for too long as it might end up as charcoal instead. Lowering the heat you’re cooking on helps prevent this.
The best thing you can do if you’re cooking a large amount of food is to divide it into smaller batches. This will help you prevent both over and undercooked food. Taking the extra time to do so will help ensure that your meal comes out flavorful and with the proper texture. Again, don’t stir whatever it is that you’re cooking constantly unless the directions specifically require you to do so. For instance, you could stir a risotto throughout its entire cook time and it will come out better because of it. However, you shouldn’t do the same to a steak or something else that needs to develop a good crust.
Improper Handling of Meat
The improper handling of meat is the third habit that any aspiring cook should break. This includes how you treat the meat before and after the cooking process. For starters, whatever you do, don’t rinse the meat you’ll be cooking. Rinsing raw meat like chicken and fish could help remove its sliminess, but this practice also introduces bacteria to your sink and its surrounding surfaces. These could cause foodborne illnesses such as norovirus and salmonella. If you want to remove the residue on your meat, it would be better to simply pat it with a paper towel.
On the other hand, some cooks don’t allow their meat to rest after cooking. We know that you’re most likely at your hungriest as you pull your choice cut of meat from the pan or the grill. You’d want to cut into it almost immediately. However, waiting for a couple of minutes after cooking to do so allows the juices in the meat to be evenly redistributed. This gives you a moister cut every time. If you cut your meat too early, then all the juices and flavor will just come spilling out onto your cutting surface. Smaller cuts of meat take around five to ten minutes to rest while larger roasts can take up to 20 minutes.
Not Taking Care of Pans
Up next we will be discussing how to properly handle your pans. If you don’t take care of your pans, they won’t take care of you as well. Your food may come out burnt or with an off taste. It may even stick to the bottom of the pan and cause a whole lot of damage. Taking care of pans can also save you hard-earned money.
A lot of cooks might not give thought to this, but you shouldn’t cook or store acidic food in “reactive” pans. When we say that a pan is reactive, what we mean by this is that it is made from a material that would have a chemical reaction with certain ingredients. For example, cooking something acidic in a cast-iron or aluminum pan isn’t a good idea because the acid may eat away at the pan.
You also shouldn’t use a non-stick pan with metal utensils, especially if you’re cooking on high heat. Cooking using a slow and steady heat when using a pan coated with non-stick material prevents the release of harmful perfluorocarbon (PFC) fumes. If you use metal utensils when cooking, you may scratch off the surface of the pan, which may lead you to ingest some of these PFCs. Check your pan’s packaging to see what temperatures the manufacturers recommend using it with. Also, use wooden or rubber utensils as much as possible.
Another way you may be cooking wrong is over-mixing batter, whether this is for baking or for coating something you’ll fry. You want your batter to be light and fluffy and the way to do this is not by mixing until every lump of flower is gone. Try your best to incorporate your ingredients as gently and as quickly as possible. Too much mixing can cause gluten to form in the batter, which produces a tough finished product when it’s cooked. You should watch out for this, especially if you tend to use an electric whisk or mixer.
On the topic of baked goods, you also shouldn’t dip your measuring cup in flour then level it off. This is a rather old-fashioned cooking technique, which may actually contribute to getting your measurements all wrong. Many cooks practice this because they may have seen it on older cooking shows or recipe books, or they may not just pay that much attention to detail. Either way, this makes whatever you’re cooking or baking much denser than it needs to be. What you would rather be doing is scoop the flour into the measuring cup lightly using a spoon, then level it off.
Under- or Over-seasoning Food
At number six, we have the cardinal sin of under or over-seasoning food. This mostly applies to salt, but it can also happen with other herbs and spices. Most recipes will usually call for a cook to season to taste. However, this doesn’t mean that you should go heavy on the salt if you don’t taste. Keep in mind that you probably won’t be the only one eating what you’re cooking – not everyone’s taste buds are the same. Many dishes also get cooked down, which means that their taste gets concentrated.
On the other hand, an inexperienced chef may under-season food out of fear that it may be too salty or too spicy, for example. The amount of seasoning you’ll put will depend on the dish you’re cooking. You may need to put more seasoning on a large piece of meat compared to a sauce or soup. To avoid this, it is important to taste as you go.
Not Reading the Recipe
The last bad cooking habit to break may just be the most important one of them all. The seventh habit you need to break to be more effective in the kitchen is not carefully reading recipes especially if what you’re cooking is new. A large portion of beginning cooks blame their mistakes either on missing a step or on not following an instruction on exactly how it should have been done. This could come from being in a rush to get a recipe done or it could be from just plain, old-fashioned carelessness. The result of not following a recipe to the letter could range from the final product missing a certain flavor or to it being totally inedible.
If you’re new to cooking, read everything written in the recipe from beginning to end and back again. Familiarize yourself with the ingredients as well as the techniques to be used during the cooking process. Lesser known ingredients may intimidate some cooks, causing them to not handle the food properly. On the other hand, fancy cooking terms may throw even the most experienced kitchen workers off. You should also remember; however, that not every recipe you read in a book or encounter on the Internet is the correct way to do it.
We hope that now you won’t overmix your batter or cut your meats immediately after cooking. We also hope you won’t skip preheating or rush through reading a recipe. Now that you’re more aware of the seven bad cooking habits to break, you’ll be a much better cook.