Think you know how to cook? Think again. Many amateur chefs are making big mistakes in the kitchen, and they may not even realize it. And it’s not just complicated recipes we’re messing up. Even the simplest dishes can turn into culinary disasters if you try to rush the cooking process or use too heavy (or light) of a hand with the seasoning.
“I believe the biggest mistake home cooks make is not taking enough time,” James Richards, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril Lagasse’s Table 10 in The Palazzo in Las Vegas, said. “Time is what makes food good but in our modern fast paced world, the art of patience is often forgotten. At-home cooking should be relaxing and stress-free, not a challenge to get everything done as quickly as possible because your guests are arriving in an hour.”
Often, small changes in cooking technique can improve a final dish, Rebecca Lewis, the in-house registered dietitian at HelloFresh, said. Home cooks should make sure vegetables are all cut to the same size to ensure even cooking and taste dishes before adding salt to avoid over-seasoning, she explained. When the food finally hits the pan, resist the urge to fiddle with it.
“Once we finally get motivated to cook, we want to be actively involved in the cooking process,” Lewis said. “This sometimes plays out such that we can’t stop stirring! Food cooks by being in direct contact with heat — if we are constantly moving the food around it won’t actually cook.”
Slowing down and paying attention to what you’re doing in the kitchen is good advice whether you’re making beef bourguignon or a BLT. Just because a dish is simple doesn’t mean you can’t screw it up, as anyone who’s overcooked their scrambled eggs or burnt their grilled cheese can tell you. For more advice on how to flawlessly execute everyday recipes, check out these tips from culinary experts.
Pancakes may be the perfect morning meal, but if you don’t use a light hand when mixing, you may end up with plate full of rubbery flapjacks, Debra Pangestu, a food blogger at Off the Eaten Path and former finalist on MasterChef Canada, said.
To guarantee light and airy pancakes, don’t over-mix the batter. “Try mixing the dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then pouring the wet ingredients into the dry,” Pangestu said. “Mix gently just until everything is moistened. There will be lumps, and that’s OK! If you mix too much, you’ll develop gluten, which is what creates a chewy pancake.”
Other easily avoided pancake problems include a lumpy, under-cooked final product, which is usually result of too-thick batter. For better results, add a bit of milk until the contents of the bowl are pourable, “similar to thick buttermilk,” Pangestu said. Greasing the pan (even if it’s non-stick) will prevent sticking, and using a 1/3 or ¼ cup scoop to pour the batter makes for evenly sized pancakes.
For the perfect golden-brown pancake, you want a pan that’s neither too hot nor too cool. “To test if your pan is hot enough, splash some water droplets on the pan. If the water droplets dance, the pan is hot enough,” Pangestu said.
Harried home cooks often skip key steps when cooking, either intentionally or inadvertently, which results in an inferior final product, Richards said. Take pasta, a seemingly simple dish that’s easy to mess up if you try to cut corners.
“If a recipe for spaghetti and meat sauce says ‘bring the cooking water to rolling boil before adding the pasta,’ does the home cook actually take the time to let the water reach a boil or do they add the pasta when the water is steaming and bubbling slightly? My guess would be they do the latter and more often than not, you’ll end up with gummy pasta,” Richards said.
Other pasta sins you may be guilty of? Under-salting the water and over-crowding the pot.
“You think you put in enough salt? Put in more,” Brad Nagy of Frankie & Fanucci’s Wood Oven Pizzeria, with locations in Mamaroneck and Hartsdale, New York, said. “It needs to taste almost like sea water. Pasta is bland and well salted water makes all the difference in the finished dish.”
“Use a big pot so you don’t over-crowd the pasta. It expands and you want to give the pasta room to move around or you wind up with gummy, unevenly cooked pasta,” Nagy added. “Take it out just before you think it’s done … It will finish cooking in the pan when you toss it with your sauce that’s hot and ready to go for a beautiful finished dish.”
A quiche seems like the perfect, simple dish to whip up for a brunch, but this decadent, egg-based pie can go badly wrong if you’re not careful.
“Quiche, especially quiche lorraine, is a great example of a dish that seems simple to make but can be hard to execute, and is frustrating to mess up,” Louis Hirsch, the general manager at Morels French Steakhouse & Bistro in Las Vegas, told The Cheat Sheet.
What are we doing wrong? Home cooks sometimes use too many eggs when making a quiche, which will cause the dish to be “unbalanced and scrambled,” Hirsch said. Another mistake? “[Setting] the oven too hot, causing a nice brown top that hides a raw inside.”
This quiche lorraine recipe from Michael Ruhlman, author of Ratio, calls for a ½ cup of milk/cream for each egg. He also suggests cooking your quiche in a ring mold rather than a pie plate, which produces a creamier filling.
Inexperience and fear of food poisoning leads some home chefs to overcook their food, especially fish like salmon. That’s a tragic mistake. Exposing your delicious cut of salmon to heat for too long will turn it dry and rubbery.
“I think recipes home cooks often have difficulty with are those that have meat or fish that should be cooked to the proper temperature so that they don’t dry out, like a simple salmon fillet,” Matthew Robinson, a chef, cookbook author, and food blogger at The Culinary Exchange, said. “The internal temperature should be around 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The home chef and pro chef can always benefit from using an instant read thermometer, so that there doesn’t need to be any guessing.”