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7 ingredients you've probably been cooking wrong - and what to do instead

There are some traps that a lot of us fall into – but they’re not hard to avoid, writes Niamh Shields.

Fish is often overcooked, resulting in a loss of flavour
Fish is often overcooked, resulting in a loss of flavour
Image: Shutterstock

WE UNDERSTAND. YOU are tired when you get home and you want food on the table fast. We all do. But there are lots of little things that many home cooks are doing wrong which can be simply amended. 

We are here to make your life easier and tastier. Most of our tricks and tips don’t take more time, some will even get your food to your table faster. The main thing is your cooking will be so much better with a little more understanding and care. We can promise you that.

Here are some of the small mistakes that chefs see over and over:

1. Overcooking pasta

Are you cooking your pasta wrong? Firstly, you are likely not salting your water correctly. Salting pasta water is essential, and it is important to salt it heavily. Why? Dried pasta has no salt, it is just flour and water. The water should taste as salty as sea water.

After that, you are probably overcooking it. Check your packet for cooking times and check your pasta for done-ness when approaching it, from a couple of minutes before. It should be all dente (with bite), meaning it should resist your teeth just a little bit and not be completely soft.

Source: Shutterstock

2. Not using salt as you go

Which brings us to seasoning generally. It was an Italian home cook that taught me to season every ingredient as I add it to the pot and to taste everything as I go, just a little salt at a time. When you are done you have a perfectly seasoned dish and no dramas. Also use sea salt instead of table salt.

3. Rushing your onions (but not your garlic)

Know your onions and garlic! “Cooking chopped or sliced onion or a soffritto properly takes much longer than people seem to think, a fact recipe writers and publishers are sadly complicit in,” says chef and food writer Thom Eagle.

“It takes at least 20 minutes to really get them soft, and more if you want to brown them. On the other hand garlic is often overcooked to the point where it burns or loses its flavour. Unless I want the flavour of fried garlic I just cook it for 30 seconds or so, until its aroma starts to rise.”

Source: Shutterstock

4. Not browning your meat

Chef Kevin O’Toole of Chameleon wants you to cook your meat better. “Sometimes people don’t go far enough with the Maillard reaction,” he says. “This is when amino acids and sugar are exposed to heat, resulting in the browning of food, like steak, marshmallows, coffee, even beer – all the good stuff! This browning reaction results in wonderful flavours and aromas.” 

5. Avoiding acid

Are you using acid to enhance and brighten your flavours? Acid? Hold on! I am not a serial killer! I mean citrus and vinegar and things like that. A squeeze of lemon or a sprinkle of vinegar can really lift a dish as you cook it and wake up some flavour. Try it out! If you add too much, balance it with a little sweetness.

Source: Shutterstock/MS Production

6. Making fish dry and tasteless

Chef Michael Quinn of the Culinary Arts programme in WIT wants you to improve how you are cooking your fish. “Fish should be cooked medium to medium rare and leave it rest before serving. Most home cooks overcook fish and this will result in a dry tasteless end product.”  

7. Ending up with mushy broccoli

Chef Bryan McCarthy of Greene’s would like you to pay more attention to your broccoli! “The stems should be down in the salted water and the florets above the level of the water so they just steam gentle and the stem and florets cook evenly and you don’t end up with mushy broccoli”.

More: 9 kitchen shortcuts that’ll get dinner on the table faster, according to the pros>

About the author:

Niamh Shields

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