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101 Cooking Tips (Yes, That Many)

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Air-Frying

  1. It’s called an air-fryer, but it’s actually a countertop oven with a convection fan. It cooks your food by circulating a lot of hot air in a tight space.
  2. Preheat your air-fryer for five minutes before adding in the food. Convection cooking works best when the air’s hot and the appliance’s interior emits heat.
  3. Just as you wouldn’t overcrowd your oven, don’t overcrowd the air fryer — the food will cook nary quickly nor evenly. Fry large quantities of food in batches instead.
  4. Spray your food with extra virgin olive oil before loading it in the air fryer. The oil will help to conduct heat to the food’s surface, which will trigger browning and caramelization, the outcome of which is flavor.
  5. Grease the air-fryer basket. It helps the areas without holes get hotter so that they crispen the food more effectively.
  6. Cook only smaller cuts of meat, poultry, or fish in the air-fryer. Larger cuts will dry out by the time they’re cooked through.
  7. You can, however, use the air-fryer as a mini broiler — think of it as a finishing step that can darken and crispen the crust of larger cuts, provided they’ve been already cooked to doneness on the stovetop or in the oven.
  8. Soak French fries for one hour in cold water before air-frying them. The surface starch, which can otherwise blacken too quickly, will seep into the water. The fries will be crisper and more evenly cooked.
  9. Give the basket the occasional shake so that the food cooks on all sides and no spots turn out soggy.
  10. Wash the basket by hand, with a soft, non-scratch sponge and warm soapy water. Air-fryer baskets are coated with a non-stick film, which, when cleaned frequently in the dishwasher, is prone to collecting scratches and flaking off.

Baking

  1. Flour is the main ingredient in any dough. There are also liquids like water and milk, which add volume; leaveners such as yeast, baking soda, and steam, which add airiness; and stabilizers like eggs, which help the dough hold its structure.
  2. A dough’s hydration is the amount of water added proportionally to the flour, expressed as percent. If a recipe calls for 1,000 grams of flour and 650 milliliters of water, the hydration is calculated as (650 / 1,000) * 100 = 65%.
  3. Lower-hydration dough is denser and easier to shape. It yields thicker baked goods with a crispier, more toothsome crust. Dough with a higher hydration is looser and stretchier. It results in airier, silkier, fluffier baked goods as light as clouds.
  4. The amount of protein in flour — called gluten — determines the flour’s strength. Cake and pastry flour has a lower gluten content in comparison to bread flour. One is considered weaker, and the other stronger. All-purpose flour, with a gluten content of 8 to 11–12%, is somewhere in the middle.
  5. To substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour, weaken it by adding cornstarch. Generally, 2–3 tablespoons of cornstarch for every 1 cup (240 grams) of all-purpose flour tend to get the job done. To substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour, weaken it with 1–2 tablespoons of cornstarch per cup. Such substitution can only take place in one direction. The only way to swap in cake flour for bread flour is to reinforce it with wheat gluten.
  6. Preheat your oven for at least 15 minutes. When you slide the food in, the air must be scorching hot and the walls should radiate heat. (That said, it helps to take every advice like this with a pinch of salt. Not all baked goods require a scorching-hot oven.)
  7. All ovens, no matter how modern and high-end, have hot and cold spots. To perfect your baking, find the hottest and coolest spots in your oven — and rotate your trays to ensure even cooking. An oven thermometer can reveal plenty.
  8. Get a good pizza stone or baking steel. The thicker, the better. It will hold heat like a battery and transfer it to the baked goods, browning the crust and puffing up the interior.
  9. Tests by the editorial staff of The New York Times’ Wirecutter have consistently shown that the ideal preheating time for a pizza stone or baking steel is about 1½ hour.
  10. Baking bread with steam, rather counterintuitively, results in loaves with a better-browned, shinier crust. The King Arthur Baking Company explains how to emulate the effects of a commercial steam oven at home.

Boiling & Stewing

  1. When water is heated to its boiling point, it starts to steam and forms air bubbles that rise to the surface. This, from a physics standpoint, is what we call boiling.
  2. There is an inverse mathematical relationship between the boiling point of water and the elevation above sea level. The higher the elevation, the lower water’s boiling point becomes. This has practical implications for cooks who live in mountainous areas — food takes *slightly* longer to cook in liquid.
  3. Salt raises the boiling point of water, but not as much as most home cooks think. For the typical amounts of salt added in cooking, like two-three teaspoons to a pot, the rise is minimal and doesn’t really affect cooking times in a noticeable way.
  4. There are different degrees of boiling. When the bubbles rise gently to the top, this is a simmer. When the bubbles come up quickly and burst uncontrollably, we call this a full, or rolling, boil.
  5. A simmer happens at a lower temperature than a full boil. It’s ideal for slow-cooking foods that are prone to drying out, such as tough cuts of meat or coarsely cut vegetables.
  6. A rolling boil transfers a lot of heat to your food quickly. Because it increases the rate of evaporation, it also hastens the thickening of the cooking liquid.
  7. To bring water to a boil quickly, set the heat to high and cover the pot with the lid. If you’re short on time, pre-boil the water in an electric kettle, then pour it into the pot.
  8. When preparing a soup or stew, know that many of the nutrients seep into the liquid. It’s where many of the minerals and heat-stable vitamins go. Some nutrients are not heat stable at all, and get destroyed during cooking.
  9. Stewing is a method of simmering tough cuts of meat and large chunks of veggies over gentle heat until the collagen in the meat has turned to mouth-watering gelatin and the fibers of the veggies have broken down into mush.
  10. Poaching is when delicate foods, like eggs, are gently cooked in still — but hot — liquid. The liquid may or may not be flavored with salt and vinegar.

Cookware

  1. Cook with the lid on when you want to keep the moisture and the heat in. If you’re frying in oil or in the process of thickening cooking liquid, remove the lid.
  2. Pans and pots with a thick and heavy bottom hold on to heat better and change temperature slowly. This is good for searing and sautéing, where high, dry heat is a must. It’s bad, however, for preparing creams and sauces, where the ability to adjust the heat quickly can mean the difference between done and scorched.
  3. Gas ranges and wood-fired cast-iron stoves provide a steady, constant stream of heat. Electric and induction cooktops cycle the burners on and off. This causes significant fluctuations in cooking temperature on thin, flimsy cookware. This is why TV chefs and cookbook authors always instruct you to use heavy-bottomed cookware.
  4. All pans and pots, whatever their make and model, have hot and cold spots. To identify them, bring enough water to cover the cooking surface to a boil. The areas where bubbles boil vigorously are hotter than where the water is calm.
  5. Pans and pots can be bare-metal or coated. The metal affects the pan’s heat conduction and capacity. The coating or lining, on the other hand, determines the cook’s experience. The metal can be aluminum, cast iron, carbon steel, copper, or stainless steel. With the exception of copper, all coatings are either ceramic (sand with inorganic chemicals), non-stick (PTFE), or vitreous porcelain (fired clay). Copper pans can be lined with tin, stainless steel, or silver (the costlier the metal, the pricier the pan).
  6. Never preheat a non-stick pan empty (without oil and with no ingredients). It can easily exceed its maximum operating temperature of 450–500°F (approx. 230–250°C) and outgas with toxic fumes, which are known to cause polymer fume fever. When this happens, the pan will smell like plastic. Turn off the heat, set the range hood to maximum power, and open the windows in your kitchen. Get out of there for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Cast iron and carbon steel skillets are not a good choice for simmering tomato juice, vinegar, wine, and other highly acidic liquids. The acid reacts to the bare-metal surface, leaching dietary metal into the food. While metal ions are also found in our food, this can impart your dish with the strong and overpowering aftertaste of metal.
  8. The most natural and least reactive cookware is enameled cast iron. However, these skillets and Dutch ovens don’t come cheap, and they can be heavy to move around in the kitchen.
  9. Don’t run water on a hot pan or pot, and don’t place hot cooking vessels on a cold surface — it can cause them to warp. A cork or stainless-steel stand can protect your countertops from damage and your pans and pots from becoming “spinners.”
  10. Pans and pots with silicone or bakelite handles shouldn’t go in the oven at high temperatures, especially for prolonged periods of time. Pots with wooden handles have no place in the oven at all, unless using very low heat, as they pose a fire risk.

Cutlery

  1. Keep your knives honed and sharp. Not only will they cut better, but they’ll also be safer to use.
  2. Friction causes wear and tear on materials, including metal. As a knife is used, the edge of the blade bends, causing it to feel dull — when it really isn’t. Even if the blade is kept aligned, eventually it will lose its sharpness and dull out.
  3. Know the difference between honing and sharpening. Practice the correct technique for each.
  4. To sharpen a knife is to give it an edge by removing metal. Honing keeps the blade straight between sharpenings.
  5. Knives can be sharpened with a whetstone, sharpening steel, or pull-through sharpener.
  6. Knives can be honed with an honing steel.
  7. Do not confuse an honing steel with a sharpening steel. An honing steel is round. It keeps the blade straight between sharpenings by pushing the edge back to the center. A sharpening steel is flat, like a metal file used by machinists in a shop. It strips away metal from the blade to once again give it sharpness.
  8. A knife is sharp enough when it can cut through paper and requires minimal force to cut through food.
  9. Clean your knives. It’s how you avoid bacterial cross-contamination of your food. If food residue is left to dry out on a knife, it will also require scrubbing or scraping, which can chip the blade.
  10. Knives can be made of carbon steel or stainless steel if metal, and ceramic if not. Ceramic blades are very sharp, but they’re also prone to breaking and chipping. Carbon-steel knives stay sharp for a long time, but can rust and therefore require maintenance. Stainless-steel knives are easy to clean and sharpen; they are typically the best choice for home cooking.

Deep-Frying

  1. You don’t need a deep-fryer to deep-fry food. Having a fully clad stainless steel pot or a thick-walled and heavy-bottomed cast iron Dutch oven, however, certainly does help.
  2. The elevator pitch for a good deep-fryer is that you can fry with the lid closed, This keeps your kitchen free from smoke and reduces fried-food odors, especially in homes with poor ventilation.
  3. The optimal oil temperature for deep-frying is between 325°F (approx. 160°C) and 375°F (approx. 190°C). Too low a temperature can make your food soggy. Too high, and the food will blacken and burn on the outside before it’s fully cooked within.
  4. Every oil has a smoke point — the temperature at which the fatty acids break down into their primary constituents and the flavor compounds burn and become bitter.
  5. The best fats and oils for deep-frying are filtered from particles, with a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. Unfiltered extra virgin olive oil, for example, is not a great choice for this use case.
  6. If deep-frying in animal fat or extra virgin olive oil, pay extra attention to the oil’s temperature. The flavor compounds they contain become unpleasantly bitter when burned.
  7. Always preheat the oil so it’s at temperature for deep-frying. The exact time will vary from stove to stove and cooking vessel to cooking vessel. However, 10–15 minutes is usually more than enough.
  8. The most reliable way to tell if the oil is hot enough for deep-frying is to use a deep-frying thermometer. If you don’t have on, try dipping a wooden spoon or a single-use chopstick into the oil. If the oil starts sizzling around the wood, it’s hot enough.
  9. Food must be breaded or battered for deep-frying so it retains moisture and doesn’t dry out. Season the breading with salt and spices for a richer flavor.
  10. Cut your food into even pieces to ensure even cooking. Never overcrowd the deep-fryer or pot to avoid sudden, hard-to-recover-from temperature drops.

Dishes Savory & Sweet

  1. The five tastes picked up by our taste buds are, in alphabetical order, bitter, salty, sour, sweet, and umami. Fatty, some researchers argue, is the sixth taste.
  2. The individual tastes not only complement, but also enhance one another. Good cooking largely comes down to finding a balance — not in terms of proportion but sensation.
  3. Browning, when triggered by heat, and caramelization create flavor. Browning is the collision of sugars and proteins under heat. Caramelization is the decomposition and darkening of sugars. Both are the result of chemical reactions that lead to the expulsion of moisture and concentration of flavor.
  4. To cook well, know the difference between wet- and dry-heat cooking. One requires the infusion of flavor into liquid. The other, the development of flavor through heat.
  5. Water does not exceed its boiling point, at least under regular circumstances, in the home kitchen. Since browning and caramelization occur at higher temperatures than the boiling point of water, boiled food will never be as flavorful as food prepared with dry heat. Compensate by flavoring the liquid.
  6. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They clog the blood vessels and lead to the build up of “bad” cholesterol in the body. Unsaturated fats liquefy at room temperature, and actually raise the levels of “good” cholesterol in the blood. Coconut oil, a relatively recent health fad, is nowhere near as good for us as extra virgin olive oil. I’ve written about the nuances in this story.
  7. Meat from free-roaming, grass-fed animals tends to have more of the good, essential fats than that from caged, grain-fed animals, even though the latter tends to be fattier.
  8. Organic produce is grown without artificial pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides. The term is regulated by the USDA in the United States and by local government bodies in the European Union. “All natural” and “natural,” on the other hand, are unregulated terms that any farmer or big brand can put on the label; they are virtually meaningless and are very often used to deceive you.
  9. Fish in the wild eat a natural diet. Farmed fish don’t. Because of that, wild-caught fish are richer in omega-3 fatty acids than farmed fish. Befriend a fishmonger and opt for fresh, local fish if you have the option.
  10. If you’re keen on learning sauces, start with the five mother sauces in classical French cuisine: béchamel, espagnole, hollandaise, tomato, and velouté. Much of French cooking is grounded in these sauces and the techniques for their preparation.

Food Storage & Kitchen Organization

  1. Keep animal fats and vegetable oils in a cool and dark place, and store them in airtight containers. A white tub, a dark-colored glass bottle, or an oil tin with a tight-fitting lid would work best. Exposure to air and sunlight causes fats and oils to go rancid faster. Use them up within 1–2 years from the date of purchase.
  2. Due to the risk of botulism, garlic-infused oils should be kept in the refrigerator and used up within no more than 7 days. Unrefrigerated garlic in oil should be discarded; there is no way to determine if it is safe to eat or not.
  3. Make your fresh herbs last longer by placing them in a tall glass or jar and covering them with a loosely wrapped plastic bag. Replace the water every one or two days.
  4. Preserve the potency and aroma of dried herbs by storing them in airtight jars and keeping them in a dark cupboard to minimize light exposure.
  5. Ripen most fruits and vegetables by storing them in a brown paper bag at cold room temperature for 1–2 days.
  6. For freshness, loosely wrap ripe fruits and vegetables with plastic and refrigerate them in the crisper drawer. Stored this way, most produce will keep for several days without wilting or over-ripening.
  7. Raw meats must be stored on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, the coolest area where the chance of raw-meat drippings contaminating the other foods with pathogenic bacteria is slim. Any drippage must be dealt with immediately through thorough cleaning and sanitization. Cross-contaminated foods should be discarded rather than eaten or cooked with.
  8. Don’t store grains and legumes in their original packaging, or you may end up with a weevil infestation. That’s not something you want, because weevils can be notoriously difficult to get rid of. Instead, transfer them to sealed airtight containers or mason jars with tight lids. Freezing grains for at least three days will kill all stages of weevils.
  9. Chill warm foods before refrigeration or freezing them. Otherwise, they may cause the temperature in your fridge or freezer to rise to unsafe levels for too long a time.
  10. Technically speaking, freezing food at 0°F (-18°C) makes it indefinitely safe to eat. Despite this, the food may still be affected by freezer burn and will ultimately become dehydrated, losing flavor. For the best quality, consume frozen foods within a few months from the date of purchase or first freezing.

Sautéing

  1. “Sauté” comes from the French verb “sauter,” which means to jump. The name of this cooking technique accurately describes its mechanics: You energetically toss thin strips or small pieces of food in a hot pan with oil.
  2. Sautéing is an active process. It warrants a roomy, maneuverable sauté pan and demands the full involvement of the cook. Avoid letting any part of the food sit too much on the bottom or sides of the pan.
  3. A good sauté pan is deep — with straight sides, a long handle, and a tight-fitting lid. If you’re in the market for a new sauté pan, buy one that’s all metal. Glass lids and silicone handles take away from the pan’s versatility.
  4. Sautéing and shallow-frying are two different techniques that require different amounts of cooking oil. When sautéing, use a very small amount of oil — just enough to make the pan shiny. In contrast, shallow-frying can be done in a pool of oil.
  5. Do not overcrowd the pan; it will cause the temperature to drop and interfere with the food’s proper browning.
  6. Never sauté foods from frozen, and always bring the ingredients to room temperature first. Doing so promotes quick, even cooking.
  7. If sautéing red meat, poultry, or large fish, cut it up into thin, boneless strips. Small food items like scallops and prawns can be sautéed whole.
  8. If a large cut of meat must, for some reason, be sautéed whole, it is best finished at a lower temperature in the oven.
  9. Sauté your meats first, and only then add the vegetables. Proteins take a lot longer to cook than veggies. Moreover, they must be cooked fully through to be safe to eat.
  10. Stir-frying is a variant of sautéing employed by chefs across Asia and the Pacific. It’s performed in a carbon steel wok, over the high heat of a gas burner. A good wok must never be coated with non-stick film, as the film will get damaged by the intense heat required to stir-fry properly.

Searing

  1. To sear is to cook food — typically meat or meaty, coarsely cut vegetables — with high and dry heat until a crispy brown crust has formed on the surface.
  2. The best pan for searing is a thick and heavy cast iron or carbon steel skillet, a clad stainless steel frypan, or a stainless steel- or silver-lined copper pan.
  3. Do not sear in non-stick cookware. Searing requires a heated pan, and non-stick cookware should never be preheated empty.
  4. The purpose of searing is to produce a flavorful crust, not to lock in the juices. There are no pores to seal in a cut of meat, just muscle fibers.
  5. Searing is most beneficial for fatty, tender cuts of meat. The fat renders off during the sear and lubricates the muscle fibers, keeping the meat moist.
  6. The sear is complete when the crust has formed. Plain and simple. Large cuts of meat may not cook fully through, in which case they’ll need to be finished at a lower heat in the pan or roasted to doneness in the oven.
  7. On the grill, searing is done over direct heat — with the lid off, above glowing coals or a lit burner — and slow-cooking is done with indirect heat — with the lid on, near but not over the heat source. Indirect heat is akin to slow-roasting the meat in a convection oven.
  8. Never sear meats from frozen. Their temperature causes the pan to lose too much heat too fast. The excess moisture works against proper browning, and the meat has a harder time cooking evenly.
  9. Bring your meats to room temperature by removing them from the fridge and allowing them to rest on the countertop 10 to 15 minutes before searing.
  10. Broiling is the same as searing. The difference is that one cooking method is done in the oven, and the other in a pan. Stovetop searing is more convenient for small cuts of meat in small quantities. Slide large cuts or big batches under the broiler.

One Last Tip

  1. Cooking is not rocket science. However, one can draw many parallels between the mindset of a good rocket engineer and that of a good cook.

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