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There are 1,001 different cooking tips out there that will make your dishes pop, and your frustration level in the kitchen drop. These are a few that I picked up while taking a culinary course that I wish I had known years earlier.
I have always wanted to go to culinary school, especially after learning that a friend’s mom went to college for cooking courses in the evenings, just for fun. It seemed way more approachable that way, but alas I live in a small town, whereas she lives in downtown Toronto.
One day, after realizing that I spend quite a lot of my time taking courses online, I decided to try to find an online culinary school option that would work for me. I’m so, so glad I did, because I found Rouxbe Cooking School. I was able to go to culinary school, without leaving my town or job. It was a rather intense six month course, where I learned a TON of cooking tips.
Honestly, that’s what it felt like at the time, not like I was starting from scratch or drowning in information, but that there were cooking tips and tricks every day. It was little cooking tip after cooking tip and all of a sudden, I had a very solid cooking foundation. Here are some that stood out to me, and no, you’re not going to read “keep your knives sharp” here. (But you very much should keep them sharp).
Secret Cooking Tips I Learned in Culinary School
Ready? Here’s my favourite:
“Full Stick” Pans are Not, In Fact, The Devil
I have always used non-stick frying pans, I’ve never liked metal bottom ones and only occasionally used a cast iron frying pan. In fact, a metal frying pan was one of the things I had to go out and purchase in order to take the course. I disliked them so much I didn’t even own one.
Consider me a convert. The key to an absolutely amazing crust is a proper temperature metal skillet. First, you need to pre-heat the pan until it is ridiculously hot and will pass the water ball test. Then, add a tiny bit of fat or oil, bring the temperature down a bit, and keep a very close eye on the temperature as you cook. Adding food will drop the temperature of the pan really quickly and you need to manage it as it regains heat.
This is possibly one of my favorite skills from taking Rouxbe, and has lead to hundreds of amazing meals since.
Even better? It’s actually pretty easy to clean those pans, if you don’t burn the sucs (bits stuck to the pan) and deglaze appropriately.
Add A Splash of Acid to Baked Goods
Have you ever read the container of “Double Acting Baking Powder” and wondered what “double acting” meant?
Baking powder reacts to both heat and acid. Similar to how baking soda and vinegar can make an epic volcano for a science fair, baking powder’s first reaction is with acid. Next, it reacts to heat, aka “double acting.”
Many times, the acid in the recipe is so minute that you won’t even realize it is there, like yogurt or maple syrup.
I live at a high elevation, where it’s hard to get nice, fluffy baked goods. In order to make pouffy biscuits and light cakes, I now add a splash of lemon juice, which helps create a stronger, more rapid reaction from baking powder and really elevate (I totally meant that pun, thank you) the baked goods.
Overcook Burn the Garlic, Start Over
It is really, really ridiculously easy to burn garlic. When you do, it will create a bitterness that permeates absolutely everything.
One of the exercises we did in Rouxbe online cooking school was to cook garlic to various states, dilute with water and taste test. Wow. I will never, ever, ever forget the implications of that lesson.
How have I applied it in real life, and how can you?
Often, recipes will ask you to start by frying garlic, but then add more ingredients which need to cook for longer, such as onions. My trick, to ensure I never overcook the garlic, is to make sure it’s one of the last things that I add, prior to the liquid. That way, it doesn’t end up black and burned simply due to being exposed to heat for too long.
Also, I wasn’t kidding about starting over. If you overcook garlic, onions and/or mirepoix, you really, really should start the recipe again before it’s too late and the whole thing tastes burnt and bitter.
Knife Skills Make Everything Better
I have come very close to crying over diced carrots before. That may have been one of the hardest exercises in culinary school, where we had to cut carrots into a million different shapes and sizes, in particular the large dice and the brunoise.
While the carrot exercise was painful, the other knife skills exercises weren’t so bad and were incredibly useful. As an at-home cook, it’s not possible to replicate the sheer volume of dicing and slicing you would face in a professional kitchen (even though it certainly feels like it sometimes!!). That said, taking some time to specifically focus on learning and improving your knife skills game can speed up meal prep.
Who doesn’t want to be able to cook a meal in less time!?
Practicing and perfecting knife skills have probably sped me up by at least 10% in the kitchen. That’s 10% for the rest of my life. Taking the time to learn knife skills pays dividends for decades!
Space Out Your Food While Cooking
I have to be honest here. I hate this one.
That, or I need the world’s largest kitchen and multiple ovens. I could probably settle for that as a solution, as long as it also came with free cleaning.
To get the best results, do not overcrowd your pan – it doesn’t matter if it’s a frying pan, a baking tray, or a boiling pot.
You know how if you read the side of a package of pasta and it suggests you use approximately the amount of water located in one of the great lakes, just to make some spaghetti?
Well that’s what it feels like you should be doing for absolutely everything.
Roasting vegetables? None should be touching.
I wish you luck roasting enough vegetables in one go for a family of four.
The same goes for pan frying salmon. Or even chicken.
When you add too much to a pan, it drops the temperature, keeps the temperature too low, or prevents the exterior of the food from having appropriate contact with the heat sources.
So, when you’re looking to pull out all of the stops and get the best possible flavour, caramelization, control and overall best dish, be sure not to crowd your ingredients in the pan.
As for Tuesday nights, you can find me wildly overfilling a baking pan with diced sweet potatoes. Some of the cooking tips are best understood and put aside for when they count.
What are your favourite cooking tips?
In case you haven’t noticed, I am head over heels in love with all of the amazing things I learned while studying with Rouxbe Cooking School. If you’re curious, I wrote a VERY lengthy final review of Rouxbe.
Is there one tip that was a game-changer for you and your culinary experience?
Let us know in the comments!