Falling in love with a particular dish you had in a restaurant is not uncommon. Even if the entrée seems simple, made with a short list of ingredients, and completely do-able in your home kitchen, things usually don’t turn out right. For many home cooks the attempts to recreate your favorite foods is difficult and rarely done to satisfaction. So what is it they do in restaurants that is so different than what you do at home?
Time Spent on the Line
We’ll start with the obvious, most professional cooks have better training and more experience than the average home cook. As with any skill, devoting more time to learning the nuances will cause you to become better at performing the task. Cooking is one skill that can be difficult to learn on your own because many things are subjective. How done meat should be, how long veggies need to cook, and what exactly is the correct al dente texture are all subtle differences that vary from taste bud to taste bud.
A professional cook has the opportunity to fine tune his/her rhythm, style, and techniques over hour after pain staking hour hovering a hot range. It has been said that to perfect a skill it takes 10,000 hours, 10,000 hours comes faster to those who spend 10 hours a day in the kitchen.
Want to improve your home cooking? Learning simple techniques and terminology will multiply your skill tenfold. How do you learn? Take a class, ask a friend who’s a kitchen wizard, or simply do a Google search, you are on the internet after all.
Shallots, Garlic, and Onions, Oh My!
Many dishes from all over the world have several ingredients in common, but the flavors of those ingredients are showcased or veiled in varying degrees. Common ingredients used in nearly every dish at a restaurant but not at home: Garlic and shallots.
Shallots are a petite member of the onion family known for having a sweet, and slightly spicy, flavor. Garlic, as many of you know, has similar principles in taste. The two are typically chopped finely and used in unison to balance everything from lasagna to lo mein. In most dishes these two bulbs aren’t supposed to shine, but they do add to the depth of flavor and add a subtle change to your favorite dish. I suggest getting some of each, using them sparingly, and seeing for yourself what a difference this simple addition makes to entrées.
Can’t Stand the Heat
“Cooking” is done by manipulating food with heat in preparation for consumption. As home cooks we often have a recipe to follow. In baking things are precise, your measurements are all precise, the bake time is exact, and you have a temperature that is calculated for best results. When cooking over a range however, you are told to use “high heat” or “simmer.” So what temperature are you actually using?
Many dishes require particular preparation styles (roast, sear, broil, ect) but the average home cook isn’t educated in what each of these cooking techniques do. No, not how they’re done, what they do.
Cooking is essentially science. Heat is a main ingredient to each and every meal you cook. When added liberally the outcome will differ greatly from the same food cooked over low heat. Luckily for us, most of the science and discovery is already done, but without the knowledge we might as well only have two settings on our stoves.
Take the time to learn why each cooking technique is used for the situation, and keep that knowledge in the back of your mind while cooking. Who knows, the difference between your favorite potatoes from Le Hausse and your home-cooked ones could be a simple change in prep.
Got any tips or tricks to help your fellow readers? Leave them in the comments!