Four Easy Ways to Avoid Common Cooking Problems
By / July 12, 2011 - 0 comments
It’s happened to all of us at some point or another: you set out too cook what you imagine will be a perfect meal, only to end up with a dish that’s soupy, salty, or overcooked.
Luckily, it’s easy to avoid common cooking mishaps like these (and any resulting tears and microwaved frozen pizzas) with a little preparation and a few simple techniques:
1: Mise en Place
There’s nothing more frustrating than needing to flip something that’s just about to burn only to realize you don’t have a spatula handy. Before you start, gather together all the ingredients, pans, and utensils you’ll need so you don’t have to stop to look for anything. Chefs call this mise en place, or “everything in place.”
2: Check off Ingredients as You Go
Tick off each ingredient as you add it to ensure you don’t leave anything out, which is a silly but surprisingly easy thing to do. I once accidentally left the baking powder out of what was intended to be a chocolate cake but ended up being a fallen lump. Don’t let this happen to you.
3: Taste and Adjust
Blindly trusting recipes can lead to disappointment. Just because a recipe calls for X amount of an ingredient, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the perfect amount of the ingredient for your dish. Your ingredients may taste slightly different from the ones used by the person who wrote the recipe; for example, your fruit may not be as sweet and so your recipe may need more sugar. Or, it may simply be that the recipe wasn’t perfect to start with.
To avoid sitting down to a disappointing meal, always taste your dish and, if necessary, adjust it before serving:
- If it tastes too bitter, add a little sugar to it (try ½ - 1 teaspoon first and then taste it)
- If it tastes too salty, stir in a little vinegar, lemon juice, or sugar
- If it’s too sweet, add salt or lemon juice
- If a dish is too dry, add a little water or stock to it
- If it’s too soupy, simmer it longer to thicken it (the excess water will evaporate)
4: Check for Doneness Early
To avoid overcooking food, always check to see if it’s done 3-5 minutes before the recipe says the time should be up. Your oven might run hot, you might have a pan turned up a little high, or your food might be a little smaller than the original recipe called for.
Also, remember that food doesn’t stop cooking as soon as you take it out of the oven or pan—residual heat trapped in the food itself keeps cooking it for several more minutes, even on a plate. I’ve noticed this effect particularly with eggs; if I take them out of the pan just before they’re all the way cooked, they’re perfectly done when I sit down to eat them.