I’m a home taught cook but have also been trained at the Michelin starred Tamarind of Mayfair for the past 3 years, so understand the pressures and the preparation that goes into making good food taste great.
One of the things I love most about being a chef is that I am constantly looking and learning. That might be new skills and techniques, finding new kitchen tech or gadgets to help save time or experiencing food from other chefs which always inspires. There is usually a new idea in everything.
There are so many skills that are important when you cook for a living but here are my top 10 tips for how to be a better chef:
Spices are a fundamental part of Indian food and understanding the aromatics they bring to a dish will make you better equipped to create masterpieces.
I’d always suggest tasting your spices – it’s the only way you will know what flavour they are going to impart to your dish. It’s also key to understand when to add different types of spices to ensure you get the full layering of flavours that makes Indian foods unique.
Generally, whole spices should be cracked or tempered in oil and the beginning of the cooking process to release their natural oils before adding other ingredients these are spices such as cloves, cardamom, mustard seeds and bay leaves.
The taste and colour spices are usually powdered spices and tend to be added one at a time about halfway through the cooking process and usually once you have liquid ie tomatoes in your pan. These include turmeric, chilli powder, coriander and cumin powders.
Finally, your flavour spices are added (usually towards the end of cooking). These are more delicate spices and are used to enhance flavour profiles. These include spices such as cardamom, fenugreek powder, mace.
Herbs are also gentle so are added at the end.
Less is more with spices so don’t be heavy handed with them and remember it’s not about just adding all the spices you have in your cupboard so all your dishes taste the same.
Remember to always store spices correctly, in the dark, airtight containers and away from a heat source.
2. Have everything ready
Be organised and get everything ready that you need to prepare the meal - ingredients, equipment, recipe but also put a game plan together.
This is called "Mise En Place" in a professional kitchen. By not preparing well, you are preparing to fail.
Understand what prep is required, timing and how you are going to serve or plate up will help the process:
3. Keep your knives sharp
Surprising, I know, but you are less likely to hurt yourself with a sharp knife. Either get them professionally sharpened or learn how to do it yourself. It’s all about being safe and saving time.
4. Be efficient in the kitchen
Think about how you can save time - this may mean multi tasking, or thinking about the process of how you are going to cook the meal and the processes involved. This could mean making a time plan of when you need to do specific jobs and how long they will take. It may also pay to improve those knife skills so you are comfortable and safe when handling knives with different ingredients:
5. Read your recipe
Make sure you read recipes all the way through from start to finish before you start to cook. This will eliminate the surprise factor. If the chicken needs to marinade for 4 hours, then make sure you give yourself enough time. It's also a good idea to have a trial run of a recipe before you a cook it for a big dinner party to make sure you know what you are doing.
I’m not suggesting you learn the art of butchery, but having a little knowledge about different cuts of meat will help you select the right meat for the right dish and by choosing better it will also help you to eliminate waste too.
In general, the harder-working muscles in an animal require more cooking – so low and slow cooking methods.
The cuts that don’t work so hard like the loin can be cooked more quickly. Trying to use meat in a better way will also help to plan weekly meals too.
7. Understand seasoning
Salt is important and helps to bring out other flavours in your food. A dish shouldn’t taste salty but salt just elevates other ingredients.
We do need it. However, seasoning isn’t just about salt and pepper, there are other tastes that you have to consider such as sweet, sour, bitter and even texture.
The difference between a good dish and a great dish is balance in the flavour but also in its colour and texture. You can use an acid such as vinegar, citrus fruits or tomatoes to add sourness
8. Always taste
Taste the food you are making so you can adjust the flavour as you cook. As the dish cooks the flavours will develop and change so make sure you taste!
9. Stay tidy
Make sure you tidy up as you go. Keeping your workspace clear means that you know exactly where you are and what you need to do next. If you empty all your cupboards into the kitchen you will get lost in the mess. It becomes really hard to keep track and find the equipment you need when you need it. This just leads to a stressful, unpleasant time cooking when you should be enjoying it.
10. Don’t add all your ingredients at the same time.
Indian food is all about the layering of flavours so adding the ingredients at the same time won’t bring out the individual flavours of a dish.
Sautéing onions for different lengths of time will make the end dish taste different.
Deep rich meat dishes require onions to be sautéed for a long time. However, adding grated ginger too early can lead it to burning
Finally - Be confident and enjoy it!
Cooking is supposed to be fun. Don't forget to enjoy it!
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