If 14 years of professional experience have taught me anything, it’s to never stop learning. I’m continually surprised by the tips and tricks that I learn from my fellow chefs on a daily basis. I want to share my top 10 secrets from professional kitchens’ also some general knowledge that will help you through your culinary adventures.
1. Always Start With Sharp Knives
This sounds like a given to any pro, but maybe not so obvious to the home chef. Your knife is an extension of your hand. You probably wouldn’t try and build a bookshelf with broken fingers would you? Your knife’s edge should be sharp and ready for execution of the task at hand. There are some great YouTube Videos on how to sharpen your knife properly.
Depending on the type of knife, steel you have, you want to use a wet stone in most cases. As we say in the kitchen dull is dangerous, sharp is safe. The duller your knife is, the more pressure you need to apply to cutting, throwing off your weight distribution and can lead to serious slip ups. This takes some practice, but it starts to become second nature as you get better and depending on how much you use your knife you’ll be a pro in no time.
2. Use a Scrap Bucket For The Trim
This is a huge time saver, do you ever find yourself going back and forth to the trash can every 2 minutes? This is important for speed and and efficiency. Everything we do in a professional kitchen is based on timing. I’m continuously timing myself on tasks that I accomplish, how do you know if your getting better of faster if your not tracking yourself? The scrap bucket is a time saver as well as a stock kit if your planning to make a vegetable stock or fish fumet.
3. Read The Recipe All The Way Through
This is a great habit to get into, have you ever started cooking a recipe and on the 3rd step your already made a mistake or you were supposed to marinate the chicken overnite. It’s always good to know what the next steps are and how to execute them. Reading the recipe and the method also helps you figure out what ingredients, pans or utensils you’re going to need for the task at hand.
4. Gather All Your Ingredients
Every chef worth their salt knows the term Mise en Place, meaning “put in place” or “everything in its place”. This tip is super important for organization and perfecting any task. Gathering your ingredients, cutting and weighing out what you need for the recipe. That’s why this is number 4 in my top secrets from a professional kitchen.
5. Air Dry Your Meats Overnite
Who doesn’t like an evenly browned and crispy roasted chicken or piece of fish? Have you ever tried to sear chicken right out of the package and can’t seem to get it evenly browned and delicious? The issue is typically moisture on the surface of your chosen protein, which essentially starts your browning process off at a disadvantage. When you leave protein’s exposed in the fridge skin dries out and that’s the ideal circumstances for the maillard reaction.
6. Don't Overcrowd The Pan
Whether you’re sauteing or frying, it’s important to avoid putting too much in the pan at on time. Similarly to when vegetables or proteins are cooked while moist, they’re crammed into a pan the temperature drops rapidly and your food steams when you’re looking for delicious, delicious browning.
7. Blanch Your Green Vegetables
Blanching vegetables should be in every cook’s repertoire, it’s a very simple technique and yet most home cooks fail to use it. By briefly boiling and then shocking into ice water, your green vegetables will become bright, tender and crisp. I love to use them for crudité platters, salads, stir-fry, or before they hit the grill.
8. Stock Your Pantry With These Essentials
Having a stocked pantry and fridge is a great feeling! At any moment you’re prepared to throw together an impromptu dinner party or an evening in with loved ones. These are just some items I love to keep on hand, your list may be different depending on your preferences.
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Red wine vinegar, Balsamic or sherry vinegar
- Rice vinegar
- White rice or brown rice
- Quinoa, couscous or farro
- Ground cumin
- Paprika: smoked
- Chicken stock
- White beans, chickpeas or black beans
- Chipotles in adobo
- Tomato paste
- Roasted red pepper
- Bay leaves
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili powder
- Crushed red pepper
- Curry powder
- Ground cinnamon
- Ground cloves
9. Master The Stock
Look we all have bought store bought chicken or vegetable stocks, and they work in a pinch. Stock is the foundation of all great sauces, braises and jus, When you start with a beautiful and flavorful stock, your on your way to an amazing meal. I love making big batches of stock and freezing them to whip out whenever I need them. Check out my recipe for fish stock here.
10. Don't Be Afraid To Experiment
Cooking should be fun and creative, recipes are general guidelines (unless your baking, then definitely follow the recipe:). Did you see something you like or that’s in season at the market? grab it and incorporate it into you meal. Getting a strong base in fundamentals is very important but leave some room for your imagination.
There are so many ways to cook, share and eat! Share your favorite kitchen tips in the comments below!