Whether you just started cooking at home or have been working in a professional kitchen for years, there are always new techniques a to learn while cooking your way through life. Here, we explore some great insights (and a few hacks) from various seasoned Canadian chefs that are guaranteed to help you up your game in the home kitchen.
1. Taste Your Food as You Go
While cooking, taste your food! Honestly, even in professional kitchens this is a frequent tip (i.e. expectation). Far too many home cooks will follow a recipe or create a dish without ever tasting throughout the process and, quite often, are not happy with the end result. It can be blamed on a poor recipe, yes, but even a poor recipe can end up great if you’re tasting as you go, and tweaking ingredient levels and seasoning throughout the process.
2. Buy Quality Spices From a Reliable Source
If you’re buying and using dry or preserved spices, find a supplier that sells a lot and cares about freshness, says Jason Bangerter, Executive Chef of Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ont. He suggests only buying what you need because dry spices go stale quickly in your cupboard. The less you have stored the better. Use a pepper mill and grind fresh as needed!
3. Don’t be Afraid to Use Salt
Salt! The biggest thing a young cook can do either at home or in a professional kitchen, is to learn how to use salt. Properly seasoned and properly cooked food is a skill in and of itself.
4. Hack for Making a Big Batch of Guacamole
Use a wire meshed rack (like one you’d use to rest meats or cool cookies on) to push/smash avocados through for diced avocados in a hurry! “I love using this trick for a perfect guacamole, especially if you’re making large batches,” says Ned Bell, Executive Chef of Ocean Wise/Vancouver Aquarium.
5. Don’t Your Beans (Who Knew?)
The most impressive cooking tip that Adam Donnelly has learned in the last few years is to NOT soak beans overnight. The Chef/Owner of Segovia Tapas Bar in Winnipeg suggests to cook them dry, bring them up to a boil and let them slowly simmer away with aromatics for 4-5 hours. “They make the most creamy, rich beans naturally,” he says. “There’s no need to add butter to make them creamy.”
6. You Can Roast Meats First, Then Sear Them.
The reverse sear is a favourite trick of Eraj Jayawickreme, Executive Chef of Fairmont Palliser in Calgary. The “reverse sear” means to cook proteins like roasts or thick-cut steaks by arranging meat on a wire rack, placing it in a low oven — between 200°F and 275°F — and cooking it until it’s about 10°F to 15°F below your desired serving temperature. (Always use a meat thermometre.) Then sear it off in a smoking hot skillet, or grill, let rest for five minutes or so and enjoy!
7. Never Cook Meat and Fish Cold
When cooking proteins (fish, meat, chicken, etc.), let the product come to room temperature before applying heat, says Faizal Kassam, Chef/Owner of Terroir Kitchen in Vancouver. Not only will you render a more even cuisson, but it will take less time to cook. Also, when cooking steaks at different temperatures (rare, med-rare, etc.), take the steak off at a level prior to your desired temperature and let it rest for 7-8 minutes. The residual heat will carry the protein to your desired temp.
8. Always Dry Ingredients Before You Grill Them
“I think one of the best cooking tips I have to give from my experience in the kitchen would be that you should always pat dry your meats or fish before cooking them,” says Sean Cutler, Chef de Cuisine of Oxbow in Calgary. “When they’re dry, you’ll get a much better sear, or grill marks if you’re cooking on a barbecue,” he says.
9. Boil Seafood the East Coast Way (Even if You’re Not Out East)
Top Chef Canada All Stars competitor, Jesse Vergen suggests that when cooking lobster, crab, periwinkles, etc., add a real east coast accent to your simple seafood boil by using a salt level in the water that matches the Atlantic Ocean. For every litre of water, add 3.5 grams of salt. “That’s the perfectly seasoned water for an authentic “I’m having a beach boil!” kind of party!,” says the Chef/Owner of Saint John Ale House. If you want to get even more authentic, use a strip of konbu, a type of dried kelp.
10. Don’t Limit “Seasoning” to Salt and Pepper
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in the kitchen is how to properly season a dish,” says Dan McGee, Executive Chef of Au Comptoir in Vancouver. Don’t stop with salt and pepper, add different acids like citrus, vinegars, pickled vegetables and fruit. Even herbs have the ability to add flavour and freshness while cutting through the richness of a dish.
11. Always Have the Basics Handy
Top Chef Canada alum Shelley Robinson knows a thing or two about having a solid pantry. She suggests keeping your fridge and pantry stocked with things like lemons, kosher salt, EVOO, bacon, garlic, good pasta, canned Italian tomatoes, flour and eggs. ” You can make a lot of magic happen with simple ingredients when you have a stocked pantry,” says the executive chef.
12. Make Sure Your Main Kitchen Knife gets the TLC it Deserves
Even if you have a whole range of specialty knives, you’ll use just one or two for over 90% of kitchen work. Keep it sharp and don’t let it bang around in the knife drawer. If you don’t have a sharpening stone or someone to do it for you, use an unglazed ceramic dish bottom to brush your blade across to fine tune the edge.
13. Establish Relationships with Local Purveyors
Build a great relationship with at least one small retailer who’s your “go-to” for a favourite item, says Michael Olson, Chef Instructor at Niagara Community College (and Anna Olson’s other half.) “I’m close with a local butcher and take their advice, and know I can count on them for getting great steaks or pork chops at a moment’s notice,” says Olson. If you’re into cheese, Olson suggests sharing pictures with them to show what you’ve done with their products. “They love it!,” says Olson. “I also take in home-baked treats from a certain pastry chef that I happen to know to stay in their good books.”
Watch this video on What Makes a You Gotta Eat Here! restaurant.