When it comes to cooking, one wrong move can take your meal from exquisite to inedible. Just ask the contestants on television shows like Iron Chef. Top contenders in the culinary world have been kicked off for minor infractions such as pieces of ingredients not being cut the same size or using the wrong garnish.
But what if your sights aren’t set quite so high and you just want to create a meal that is better than okay? You don’t desire to set a world record in taste; you’d be satisfied with your family saying, “Wow, mom! That was delicious!”
Just as it is important to know what to do, you have to know what not to do. Here are four of the most common mistakes you can make in the kitchen and what to do to overcome them:
Nothing can turn a quality piece of protein into a tough patch of rawhide quicker than cooking it too long. If you find yourself in this predicament, the only benefit is that the dinner table is quiet as your family tests the strength of their teeth and jawbones by trying to chew your “meal” into small enough pieces to actually swallow it without getting it lodged in their throat.
One of the first rules of cooking is to always check your meals before you think they should be done. It’s always preferable to be proactive than reactive when it comes to kitchen survival. So, if it’s supposed to take something 25 minutes to cook, check it at 18-20 minutes. You can always cook it more, but you can’t cook it less.
Crock pot cooking is great for the person who wants to be sure to cook their meals thoroughly but has a tendency to overcook it in the process. It will keep your food moist and tasty and won’t stress your family’s facial bones and muscles at meal time.
Just as you can overcook food, you can also undercook it. Especially when it comes to proteins like chicken and fish, you certainly want to make sure they’re not raw at all as pink insides can ruin anyone’s appetite, turning them off to the remainder of the meal no matter how good it may be.
To avoid the risk that you’re going to gross your meal guests out or, worst case scenario, make them sick from salmonella poisoning, take precautions to make sure you don’t undercook your foods. One of the best ways to avoid this culinary mistake is to invest in a food thermometer as it will take guesswork out of the equation. There are several on the market so you have a wide selection to choose from.
Sometimes it’s easy to undercook baked goods like cookies and dessert bars. You don’t want them to be rock solid so you take them out of the oven too early only to realize they weren’t quite done. While there’s definitely a fine line between done and undercooked, try to leave them in the oven until the ingredients lose that ‘raw’ look.
Using the Wrong Cooking Methods
As any top chef will tell you, the manner in which you cook a food affects its taste and texture. Choose a method that doesn’t bring out the best in your ingredients and the meal will fall flat on its face.
For example, to get red meat that is tender and juicy, it’s best to sear it in a pan with a little bit of oil on high heat to seal the juices inside. Then lower the heat and continue to cook the meat to your desired tenderness. Once it’s done the way you like it, let it rest before slicing it so that the juices you seared in stay in.
Learn how to cook in a way that brings out the maximum taste and texture of the foods you like to cook by exploring the internet for advice or buying a cookbook. Watch cooking shows or ask someone you know who works magic in the kitchen. The more you know, the tastier your meals.
Herbs and Spices
One of the key differences between a dish that wows and a dish that is forgettable is the use of seasonings. Herbs and spices have the ability to wake up a meal and bring it to life. They can bring out the natural flavors of the food and take them to the next level. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a dash of salt and pepper and other times it’s going a step above that and working with fresh herbs, such as thyme or basil.
However, just as it’s important to use seasonings when you cook, it’s equally as important to know when to use them. Certain spices go with certain foods. For example, rosemary and sage are great with chicken, while dill and coriander work well with fish.
If the idea of spices and herbs makes you anxious, start small. Buy just one and begin to use it. Then, as you get more comfortable, you can always add others in from there. Try different recipes and learn which ones make your mouth sing and which ones are better left in someone else’s kitchen.
If you’ve made mistakes such as these four in the past and have all but given up cooking as a result, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to grow your culinary talents. Cooking, like anything else, takes time and usually involves a whole lot of trial and error before you get it right.
When you keep trying and you’re finally able to serve that one meal that everyone talks about because they’ve never tasted such mastery of the ingredients used, it all becomes worth it. You’ve taken yourself from cook to chef and nothing tastes better than that. Don't forget to read our guide on herbs and spices.