So I have this theory. In most walks of life there are some people who are dramatically better than others – the genius, the pro sportsman, the taxidermist (wait, what?).
In the world of cooking, however, the pro chef is just like you and I, it’s just that he’s learnt a few tricks along the way and he’s spent time working out how to make food look good.
What? I didn’t say it’s a good theory.
If it’s true, though, then the average pro chef’s career hangs in the balance of a bit of deciding where to place the lettuce and a bunch of tricks. Think he’s gonna share those tricks? Not on your nelly.
But I am
Here are the best tricks I have found from years of reading cookery books and scavenging for the bits and pieces of inside information that the pros drop accidentally:
- Get into your garlic like a pro: courtesy of Jamie Oliver, the best way to peel a clove of garlic is to place it on your chopping board and give it a smack or two with the flat side of your big knife (give it a try to work out how hard to hit – you’re aiming for somewhere between ineffectual caress and obliterated mess – what the hell, garlic is cheap). You’ll find that you can just chop the end off and the skin will fall away from the clove. Amazing.
- Poached eggs can be par-poached in advance: par-poached. I think I may have just made up a word. Still, you get the idea – can’t remember where I got this one from – you slightly-under-poach the egg (telling when an egg is poached is a topic for another day) and then dunk it straight from the pan into some iced water. It’ll keep there in the fridge till you need it – assuming it’s, you know, sometime soon – when you simply stick it back in gently boiling water till warm
- Take the edge off something you made too spicy: if you added a bit too much ginger or chilli, add a squeeze of lemon juice to tone down the spiciness. Saved my arse at a dinner party once. The spicy tiger prawn soup woulda pretty much killed people without the last minute save.
- Seasoning, seasoning, seasoning: this one actually is shared quite a bit, but if you want your food to taste pro, season it properly. The biggest single difference (apart from presentation) between restaurant food and home-cooked food is the amount of salt, pepper, spices, herbs (yes, and butter!) that is added during cooking. For those special occasions particularly, break out the seasoning.
- Don’t be afraid of hot: pro kitchens are hot places – hot ovens, hot stoves. Especially when you are frying, you probably aren’t getting the pan hot enough.
- Wet your hands to make fat easy to clean off: if you are going to be getting fat / oil on your hands (e.g. when working with minced meat by hand) wet your hands first and you’ll find your hands loads easier to clean. This is technically a chemistry tip rather than a cooking tip – if you didn’t know that oil and water don’t mix, remember not to throw water on an oil / fat fire!
- Didn’t I already tell you to get a proper knife?: get one already
So that isn’t really enough to get either me or you cooking like a pro – I want to learn some more tricks so please do share in the comments…