Making delicious food doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. It is very easy to elevate your dishes with a few universal tips. With this easy guide you will be making better tasting food in no time without having to buy any extra bougie ingredients. Anyone can be a great cook.
Three Tips to Make You a Better Cook
Table of Contents
- Colour Equal Flavour
- Know How to Use Spices
- Try Something New and Change Things
- Bonus: Baking is Science
I know this title might be a bold claim, but I truly believe in it. You know me, I’m not one for using hyperbole lightly. There are so many little ways to make your food taste better, which you can apply to just about every dish. Once those little ways become a habit you will be making better food every time you cook something. You don’t need fancy ingredients to make food taste better, oftentimes method is really what matters to enhance the flavour. These are things I picked up over the years from experiments, recipes, articles and cooking shows. No hacks because honestly I’ve never encountered a useful one. Beware this includes some basic food science, which you can skip or read further into if you like. Disclaimer: I am not a food scientist, just an enthusiastic home cook with a love for researching things.
Anyone can cook, but only the fearless can be great.– Gusteau, Ratatouille (Pixar)
Colour Equals Flavour
Who has not heard that sentence on just about any cooking right before the chef has charred something beyond recognition. You should just call that charcoal. What I am referring to is the famous Maillard Reaction (Maillard Reaction, Science of Cooking), which is a form of non-enzymatic browning that occurs above 140°C/285°F. The chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, with the help of heat, creates an alkaline environment. Amino groups don’t neutralize and the type of amino acid determines the flavour. The Maillard Reaction is often used by food scientists when creating artificial flavours but you can use it to give more flavour to whatever you are cooking. Caramelization (Caramelization, Science of Cooking) is another non-enzymatic browning reaction that will help your food get more flavour. The reaction involves the removal of water and the oxidation of sugar. It results in a sweeter, nuttier flavour and brown colour. Those are two ways in which you create flavour through browning. A light char will also create a smokey flavour, but don’t burn your food completely.
Know How to Use Spices
Whatever fresh ingredient you are using will hopefully have flavour, especially if it is in season. Yet fresh ingredients will only take you so far, without spices food can be a little bland. This might be the most difficult thing to learn when cooking, season as you go to taste. Even if it is just salt and pepper. It will be better if you use a wide variety of spices, blends and pastes. A wide variety of spices means that you can make a multitude of things with the same ingredients you have always been using and they don’t have to be expensive spices. Make sure to buy spices that don’t contain any fillers such as starches, sugars and artificial colours. You also want to make sure to roast your spices in a warm pan to bring out the full aroma before you deglaze a pan or add very wet ingredients. Pastes also add flavour whether it is a chili sofrito, curry paste or just tomato paste. Here the same rules apply, roast any paste for a few minutes to cook out the raw flavour. Other things that can add additional flavour are chilies (bloom them in warm oil or water) and sauces (hot sauce, soy sauce, worcester sauce,…), juices (lime, lemon, orange,…), sugar and vinegar. Sometimes you need a little bit of acidity or sweetness to balance all the flavours. This is definitely something you learn as you experiment. Don’t forget adding herbs (dried, fresh or frozen) towards the end.
He who controls the spice controls the universe.Dune, Frank Herbert
Try Something New and Change Things
Trying something new can be daunting because, if you are anything like me, you also hate wasting food. Sometimes you might try something and just dislike it, that’s fine. I don’t like couscous very much, so I will not be repurchasing it. Other times it is worth trying something in different ways. Whether it is a different method of cooking something or replacing an ingredient you don’t like with something else. Maybe you are unsure whether you would like a Pad Thai because of the oyster sauce and tamarind paste, then you can try it with Worcester sauce and lime juice to get a taste before buying the other ingredients. It’s what I did. A cooking recipe is a guideline that helps you make food, but certain ingredients can always be replaced. If you don’t like spinach, you can most likely use broccoli instead. You don’t eat meat, use an alternative (tofu, seitan) or make it with vegetables alone. Most recipes can be adjusted, in my recipes I try to always give you options. Those options also give you variety.
Bonus: Baking is Science
Baking is a little more complicated because it is chemistry and ratios have to be just right. As far as flavours are concerned you can experiment, but if you change the ratios whatever you are baking might completely fail. The cake might not hold together or be too dry. Waffles will just melt away in the iron. As much as I am a be-creative-in-the-kitchen supporter, baking is where you need to be cautious. Get a digital kitchen scale where you can change the weighing units, and you are good to go whatever you want to bake. Whether the measurements are in the metric or the imperial system, you are set. They are not that expensive and essential. When baking bread you have to calculate hydration rates which is very difficult when using cups. It is the one piece kitchen equipment I’d highly recommend you would get.
There you have my more or less little guide to making better food. Some are certainly easier to follow than others. Brown your ingredients, roast your spices/pastes and season as you go are easy to follow. Figuring out the finetuning of cooking by adding sugar and acid to taste will become easier as you do it. Soon it will be second nature and you won’t even have to think about doing it. Working with your palate and trying something new, changing things is difficult at first but soon you will be able to eat such a wide variety of things. The other tips certainly work with this one. Ever since I started doing these things and learned to work with a variety of spices and methods food has just been getting better. The flavours are more complex yet balanced with a lot of variety. I have found ways to eat things that I never liked before such as aubergine and fish. I hope you enjoyed this lengthier blogpost and it helped you in some way. I hope you have a great day. Stay safe and wear a mask!
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