Over the years, I’ve discovered, through sheer trial and error, a few realizations that have really helped make me a better, more productive, and more interesting home cook. I would like to go over everything I’ve discovered over time, but one of the great things about the blog format is that it’s nice to present ideas in little snippets for easier overal digestion. So with that in mind, here are three little tricks, or habits, I’ve developed that have really helped me. Maybe they’ll help you, too. Thinking like this begets more cooking, and better eating.
1. Upgrade your relationship with salt. Throw out the iodized table salt and replace it with kosher. Purchase some sea salts with varying textures and colors/origins, and get to know them. Then find some sel gris (coarse gray salt from the coast of Brittany, France) and begin to make flavored salts. Most of the salt that most people consume is consumed via processed foods, which are loaded — and then some — with salt. The breakaway cooking style may appear at first glance to place an undue emphasis on salt. But because processed foods play little or no role in the cooking and eating habits of breakway cooks, overall salt intake is probably much lower than those with average, conventional diets.
Salt is the most important ingredient in every cuisine on earth, and for good reason: it makes food taste good, and our bodies must take in adequate salt replenishment just to survive. Surely it’s a good thing to control and tweak our own intake to our own preferences, as opposed to consuming huge quantities of salt through processed foods and then needing to “watch our salt” intake. Using better and more interesting salts also lends visual and textural interest to your food, in addition to making it taste a whole lot better.
2. Make way more than you think you’ll need for any particular meal. The reason? It’s just as easy to cook a pound (or more) of something than it is to cook a half-pound (or less) of something, be it meat, vegetable, pasta, salad, whatever. What to do with the extra? This is a good problem to have! Simply eat it for lunch the day, or use it as a component for a future meal, or give it away to someone. It’s awfully convenient to have a tupperware full of cooked chicken, which can be used in all sorts of ways: in a stir-fry, an omelet, fried rice, in a sandwich, in a pasta dish, on pizza . . . and dozens more. It will save you a huge amount of prep time and cook time. Same with baking bread: make enough for three or four loaves, instead of just one, and refrigerate the dough — then it’s just a matter of shaping a loaf and throwing it in the oven. Same with salad: washing and spinning a bunch of greens — enough for two or three or four salads — and storing the ready-to-go greens in a bag in your fridge means instant salad. Nice for the times when you just can’t deal with the hassle of putting it together.
3. Keep a bunch of different liquids in your fridge. So much of good cooking involves liquid: boiling, braising, simmering, sauteing, poaching . . . most cooks typically use water and stock for this type of cooking, but using different liquids adds layered complexity and flavor to foods without extra work or fuss. The more liquids you have lying around the kitchen, the better! I almost always have on hand the following:
fresh carrot juice (by far my favorite; I think of carrot juice as a stock)
white wine, dry and not so dry
boxed organic chicken stock (homemade is obviously better, but not by that much, and the convenience factor is a massive plus)
boxed organic beef stock (as above)
I’m interested in hearing more supersimple tips — cooking philosophies, even — from YOU. What epiphanies have made you a better cook?