My Quiet Life My Quiet Life

cooking tips

Intro

This is just a quick list off the top of my head of various tips, tricks, opinions, hot takes, and light trolling. This isn’t a comprehensive list or anything, just things I’ve encountered along the years that help me out with the stuff I tend to cook. There’s nothing in here that will be a shock to even a noob home chef, but you never know. I still run across things that blow my mind like “omg why have I not been doing this all these years???”

I figured I need a place to dump this stuff and can add to it as I think of things. I might update it with links, but probably not. You can just google anything I’m saying to see if I’m being a lying liar or not. Enjoy!

Gear

  • The list of pots/pans/etc you require is highly individual based on taste and what you’d like to cook. I don’t recommend buying a big set that has everything in it. You’ll necessarily compromise on quality unless you spend a fortune, and you’ll inevitably wind up with stuff you don’t use. Buy things a piece at a time, learn to like and use it. That said, the essentials for me:
    • Big cast iron skillet. You cannot beat the heat retention of a big hunk of metal when it comes to searing.
    • A large stainless saucepan – IME shelling out for all-clad is worth it here.
    • Stainless skillet (I could probably get away without this, but I have it)
    • Large/wide stainless saute pan
    • Dutch oven – enameled is fine, if you want it (see below). I just have cast iron
    • Large stock pot (I have a 19 quart stainless). Don’t skimp here, cus even though it seems like any thin metal piece of junk would get the job done (and it will), they are prone to failure at the weld between the bottom sides, and that failure mode tends to happen at heat, resulting in a leak at the bottom, which can really suck.
    • A large vitreous glass enameled casserole dish (see below for specific rec)
    • A wok (I am listing this despite never using mine, because sadly I haven’t had a good gas range in years, but :soon:)
    • A small non-stick skillet for eggs et al. I resisted non-stick for a long time. I held the (somewhat justified) stigma that non-stock skillets are silly and any well-seasoned pan is good enough, which is (mostly) true. But I’ve come around to the convenience. It’s really nice in the morning to make some quick eggs in a pan where you know you can give approximately zero fucks. Cleanup is a breeze. Get one that is cheap, replace it when the coating starts to go. I got a slightly pricier one that had a heftier stainless base for better heat retention, but not so expensive it’s not still basically disposable.
  • A $40 (or whatever) Victorinox chef’s knife is more knife than pretty much any home chef will ever need.
  • If your knives seem dull, you probably don’t actually need to sharpen them, you just need to hone them. Get a good honing steel or a strop. I have a ceramic steel that is fine, though they are brittle.
  • Buy an immersion blender. I see the need some people have for an actual blender, but I’ve never needed one.
  • Buy a sousvide stick. It might sound pretentious but it’s a gamechanger. It’s also immensely useful for defrosting. No more overnight waits for your ribeye to thaw.
  • Buy heat-resistent silicone tools whenever possible. Silicone mixing bowls are amazing for mixing, deforming to pour, quick rinse out to clean cus they are nonstick. Silicone sauce brush makes cleanup a breeze. Flexible silicone cutting boards are great – mince garlic, fold cutting board, dump into pot. No more awkward scraping and piling up on the back of the knife over and over. Measuring cup containers like this see daily use in my kitchen.
  • Enameled cast iron is overrated. Yeah, I said it. The only plausible reason you might want one is that a white enamel coating can make evaluating the color of a pan sauce much easier.
  • Vitreous glass enameled casserole dishes are great, on the other hand. I like Staub’s stuff, not as expensive as Le Creuset.
  • Get an instant read probe thermometer. Thermapens are great, cheaper knockoffs are probably fine. Seriouseats has reviews. When it comes to cooking any meat, temperature is key. Stop eyeballing and guessing and just get a good probe.
  • Get an infrared point-and-shoot thermometer – great for quickly checking the temperature of a heating pan, or calibrating your oven.
  • Instantpots are great, but unless you absolutely prioritize the convenience, it’s no substitute for proper braising and slow-cooking.
  • Get a garbage bowl and a bench scraper. I myself still haven’t done this, but I know I need to.
  • Buy an egg cooker for soft/hard-boiling eggs. I know, I know, softboiling eggs is not exactly brain surgery. I’m not big on kitchen gadgets, but I pulled the trigger on one and it was a gamechanger. I make at least one softboiled egg for breakfast every single day. It makes softboiled eggs a trivially easy upgrade to dress up ramen.
  • Get a boning knife. I got the cheap Victorinox one and it was a gamechanger for taking apart a chicken. For years I just thought I was bad at it.

Techniques

  • For quickly peeling garlic, separate all the cloves, place them under the side of a knifeblade and gently wack it with your palm. This will (usually) smash it free of the peel. For subsequently dicing the garlic, do the same thing except harder to smash the garlic on the cutting board, then finish with a dice.
  • Alternatively, just buy peeled garlic. It’s fine.
  • Soup and stew level-up: Once you’re more or less at the “let it stew for a while” stage, take a cup of the soup/stew, try to get a little bit of everything in that one cup (including meat!). blend it thoroughly with an immersion blender and fold it back in. It can help thicken, depending on ingredients, and also kinda dissipates the general flavor notes of the soup.
  • Don’t worry about meat sticking. Don’t panic, don’t turn down the heat. As the proteins denature they will slowly start to decouple from the metal of the pan. Any leftover bits leftover form the fond and are Actually Good.
  • ABD – Always Be Deglazing. You don’t need to have wine, you can just use stock. You can also just use water.
  • When making soups or stews that involve a long/slow/low cook time and involve meat, cook the meat as desired and then set aside when possible. Add it back at the end. If you are braising shortribs for chili, braise them first alone, make your chili base, let it stew to come together, add the rib meat back at the end. If you’re searing chicken thighs for e.g. curry, sear it, remove, deglaze, make your curry base and re-add the meat at the end letting them finish cooking. Meat when cooked too long (even braised) will start to get dried out as all the delicious rendered fat and collagen goes away.
  • Your pan isn’t hot enough.
  • When braising, feel free to crack the lid to encourage reduction.
  • Letting meat come to room temperature before searing is a myth, but salting to remove moisture is not, so do it anyway with liberal application of salt, then pat it dry.
  • Learn not to fear your broiler. A good broiler is indispensible for when you want to maillard up things or flash roast a pan of veggies.
  • Skim recipes, don’t scrutinize them. Learn to take apart a recipe, scrapping it for parts. This will help you build intuition for improvizing vs following a (probably flawed or overly-meticulous) set of instructions.
  • Watch and read Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. Just do it.

Recipes/Ingredients

  • Be wary of recipes calling to skim/remove all the fat. Straightup huge volumes of grease are gross, sure, but fat is flavor. The anti-fat crusades still live on, despite being hogwash, so be vigilante. Stay strong.
  • If you are sousvideing in a marinade or rub, be sparing .. in sousvide context a little goes a long way. I once overnight sousvided a chuckroast with a marinade that had a TINY bit of apple cider vinegar. The entire roast even to the very core tasted like vinegar. Not great, bob.
  • MSG is good, use it. The migraine connection is a myth
  • Fish sauce goes in anything and it won’t make the dish fishy. Use it for umami.
  • Brewed coffee is a good source of umami. If you have some leftover laying around, use it.
  • Quality of eggs can matter for appearance, nutrition, size of yolk, etc, but all eggs taste the same. I know, I know, your free range chickens’ eggs just taste so much better! They don’t. Repeated blind taste studies have repeatedly debunked this. No one can tell. They probably are better for you, though!
  • Level up your coleslaw with thin-sliced white onion and green apples.
  • Don’t put tomatoes in chili. It’s called ‘chili’ for god’s sake.
  • Learn to make a basic chile colorado. It will help you start to appreciate the depth and breadth of various chile flavors and it’s the base technique for any subsequent chili.
  • Braise shortribs or oxtail for chili instead of just ground beef or even braised chuck. You’ll thank me.
  • Put beans in chili. I am not taking questions at this time.
  • takes a deep breath Onions take a long time to caramelize. The recipe saying otherwise is a liar.
  • If you want to roast a chicken, spatchcock it. Good fast method and you get a free backbone to put in the freezer for stock.
  • When you have enough freezer backlog of chicken parts, make your own chicken stock. It’s easy. It smells good.
  • Reduce your chicken stock till it’s basically solid gelatin at room temp. Freeze in silicone ice-cube trays.
  • Similarly, you can make roux in large batches and freeze in ice-cube trays as well.
  • Pork loin is not pork tenderloin. Say it again. If I see one more person out there makin “pulled pork” with pork tenderloin I’m gonna cry.
  • Do you have a large pork loin around? Here’s a good and quick recipe: throw it in the trash.
  • Grocery store-bought pork can be cooked/eaten med-rare/rare. Trichinosis has been a solved problem in the hog industry for decades. (But not, apparently when it comes to bear meat!) It can also still be a problem with pasture-raised pork from smaller farms, where you can’t guarantee one of them didn’t eat a dead mouse or something.
  • Frozen seafood like shrimp and scallops can be great to quickly add to a curry. e.g. make, say, a red thai curry base. Toss in frozen shrimp at the end, let them cook, eat. This has the advantage that you can just serve it when the shrimp is perfectly cooked, so it doesn’t dry out or get rubbery.
  • Mustard is a good way to punch up the perceived heat of a spicey dish without raising the actual heat. Mustard helps carry the smells to your nose and is a great combo with chile spice.
  • American cheese is good, actually
  • Sliced scallions freeze very well in a ziplock bag for quick cooking and garnishing.
  • If you’re making a larger hamburger patty (e.g. not smashburgers), make the patties thinner in the middle, like almost a donut. It will contract on cooking resulting in a better flat patty. No more football burgers.
  • Making mushroom risotto? Dehydrated mushrooms are perfect for this. Rehydrate in simmering water, remove, chop/whatever, and use that resulting mushroom water to make the risotto. It’s free real estate mushroom flavor!
  • Risotto requires time and stirring. If you’re taking shortcuts that’s fine, but it’s not risotto, you just made rice.
  • The ribeye cap is the best part of the ribeye. “Can you just ask a butcher to cut you just the cap?” you ask? Yes, yes you can.
  • In making any kind of soup involving corn (e.g. chowder), cutting it off the cob, scraping the bits/juice of cob into a cheesecloth and pressing out the juice to use in the soup is a) a totally messy pain in the ass and b) absolutely worth it.
  • Almost any recipe involving chicken is better with chicken thighs than chicken breasts.
  • A thin layer of mayo on any bread you’re toasting/grilling will help it brown.
  • Liver is mindblowing medium-rare. Put the overcooked shoe-leather liver of your childhood out of your head and try it again. It’s good.
  • Salt and drain eggplant to get rid of excess water and any bitterness.
  • Learn to make bechamel (and all the mother sauces, really, but definitely bechamel). It’s the easiest and you can use it everywhere.
  • Any recipe calling for milk or cream (e.g., say, a chicken pot pie, or a creamy casserole) can usually be improved by making it with bechamel.
  • Drain every bit of moisture in wilted spinach you possibly can before using it in something (e.g. lasagna, creamed spinach, etc)
  • Creamed spinach is good, but bechameled spinach is better (see above)
  • I sear meat in butter (usually). I know of literally no science explaining why it would, but nonetheless it seems to help things brown better. Science would say it does nothing but burn. Maybe there’s just enough lactose in butter that it helps? Lactose is a sugar, maillard reaction requires sugar. I dunno. Maybe I’m just stupid.
  • Put a little water or milk in your scrambled eggs if you’re cooking them hot and fast. Puffs em up a bit.
  • Onions are good. Shallots are better.
  • Peeling roasted peppers is a pain in the ass – but if you roast them and then immediately seal in a paper bag (even a ziploc bag seems to work) while they cool, the skin becomes much easier to remove. Not sure why, something sciencey to do with the evaporating moisture I bet.
  • Make (and freeze!) chimichurri. It’s so good! I slept on it for far too long.
  • Grilling corn: unless you’re doing it elotes style (where you want charring on the kernels themselves), soak the corn still in its husk in water, finish on hot grill. The water in the soaked husks steams the corn inside and once it finally starts charring a bit, imparts a pleasant smokey flavor.
  • Greens of most vegetables are edible, even if you don’t think of em that way. If you get beets, wash and wilt the greens! They’re great!
  • Add more cumin. More. No, more.