How to Be a Successful Home Cook Slideshow
October 25, 2011
1. Season Dishes Properly
As chef Stephanie Izard sees it, "I think that people are afraid to use salt to bring out the natural flavors. Not that we want to make anything too salty, and not be healthy, but [you should add] enough seasoning and [use] the right mix of ingredients in dishes so you have the right balance of sweet, salty, and savory. This allows the dish to come together and make your mouth happy." How to do it? She recommends salting throughout the whole process and tasting as you go — it's even what she teaches her new cooks.
In her kitchen, when cooks first come to her, she takes a batch of soup, and has them add in a little salt and take a taste, and continue to do that. She explains that, "Slowly the favors come out of the soup and come to life. And it's the best way to learn about seasoning."
2. The Secrets of a Good Salad
Salads might sound boring, but theyre definitely not in Izard's world. What's her secret? Texture, consistency, and freshness of ingredient. But the real kicker is the dressing. For her, "It's all about bold dressings." She says that the key is to make sure that everything is in the salad for a reason and then to finish it with a bold dressing. (No, she's not talking about ranch, that's for dipping.)
She explains that you can use vinaigrettes in different ways and not just for salads. Try putting a dressing over a piece of chicken for dinner or over pasta. Sometimes it's good to take some of the simple things and play mix and match in the kitchen.
3. Flavorful Chicken Dishes
Most people love chicken (vegetarians and vegans excluded of course), but Izard suggests skipping the boneless, skinless, chicken breasts for chicken thighs. Why? “Because that’s where all the flavor is.” Not that she’s dismissing chicken breasts. She uses those for her sandwich and thinks they are tasty, but the thighs are another option for home cooks looking for something different in the kitchen that will be both flavorful and exciting.
4. Properly Cooking Proteins (with Patience)
With fresh fish like salmon or halibut, "It's all about proper seasoning and proper cooking." Izard says that she gets a lot of questions from home cooks asking, "Why is my fish getting stuck to the pan?" Instead of switching to non-sticks, she suggests these basic principles for making perfectly cooked fish or proteins in a regular pan. "Just get the pan smoking hot, put in oil with a high smoking point, put in your fish, and after it gets a little bit brown, turn it down, and then it's all about patience." Though she's fallen prey to impatience, she recommends getting a glass of wine or beer and chilling out. Let the natural sugars in proteins caramelize, by stepping back and letting nature take its course. Don't push.
5. Flavor-Boosting Pantry Staples
"I'm a huge fan of Sambal," says Izard. Other ingredients that help add flavor? She says that they use Dijon mustard at the restaurant and in the cookbook a lot. The same goes with soy sauce and fish sauce. She explains that you can use them in stews, soups, and sauces Its all about adding layers of flavor.
6. Don't Be Discouraged
We asked Izard if she’d had any recent kitchen blunders while making this book or if she continues to have them even after being a successful chef. “Happens all the time!” she told us. So home cooks, don’t get discouraged because even Top Chefs are prone to making mistakes and trying experiments that don’t work — it’s important to keep trying and not give up.
7. Basic Beer and Wine Pairing Suggestions
Have some fun with this. While the old belief was that white went with fish and chicken and red with meat, Izard says that, "There will always be something in your realm of what you like to drink that will go with the food." She suggests picking a night that you'll play around with it and see what your mouth gets excited about so you can figure out what works for you.
The important thing to keep in mind with beer and wine, she explains, is that it's all about a personal preference. There are some basic suggestions in her book that you can start with or try recommendations from your local wine shop, but then it's up to you to experiment and find what you like. Try having some friends over and doing a tasting and just have fun with it.
8. How Much Food is Enough for a Dinner Party?
There’s always the fear of running out of food, so how do you know how much to make? “I always make too much food, because I forget that people will only have a taste of each dish.” While Izard tries to give portions in the book, she says that leftovers are great to give to friends in a Tupperware on their way out — “It’s like a parting gift.”
9. Where to Begin
It's always good to start with a recipe that's been tried and tested. Izard recommends beginning with a cookbook — her's would be preferable — following the recipes very closely at the beginning, then slowly stepping away and coming up with your own recipes and twists. "Pretty soon, the cookbook will just be decoration on your coffee table."