Listening to: “Into The Mystic” — Zac Brown Band
Sipping on: Catoctin Creek “Rabble Rouser” 2017
I think we can all agree that the past year has been crazy, to say the least. I for one never envisioned living through a full-on global pandemic. Yet, here we are, posting Instagram pics of our vaccination cards (shout out to the #PfizerGang.) One of the few positive things to come out of a year of lockdowns was my rekindled love of cooking at home. As a chef, people always assume that we cook amazing and fabulous things at home. Yea, we don’t do that. Y’all would be shocked at how we eat at home. I work in a restaurant 12 hours a day so the last thing I want to do at home is literally anything resembling work.
Anyway, all of the sudden we were stuck at home for months so I was cooking dinner for Drew & I every night and I loved it! At its core, our job is to feed and nourish people, and doing that for my husband every single day brought me so much joy. As we started to go back to work, I continued cooking dinner for us on my days off, Sunday & Monday. I used to look forward to my off days because I didn’t have to go work but now I look forward to them because I get to cook dinner for (and spend time with) my husband. It’s something that I’ve come to cherish.
It occurred to me that there are maybe tens of people out there that would love to cook better at home but don’t necessarily know how or where to start so I thought I’d offer a list of small things that you can do to be better home cook.
- Salt- SEASON EVERYTHING. Seriously. And not just a few spinkles. Dust it like a light snow storm. Trust me. ALSO, for the love of all that’s holy use Kosher salt. Diamond Crystal has the best flake structure (its nerdy and bougie af but flake structure is a real thing and there are 2 distinct camps; Diamond Crystal & Mortons. We judge those that use Mortons. Don’t be one of those people.)
- Acid- Think of acid as a seasoning that is just as important as salt or pepper. A few drops of lemon juice or sherry vinegar (my preferred choice) makes a world of difference and brightens everything up. I always have a bottle of sherry vinegar on hand.
- Fat- When in doubt, add more butter. Also, buy better butter. (Always unsalted.)
- Timing- Mis en Place is our religion. It means “everything in its place.” Prep your meal beforehand. Take your time. Have some wine. Play some music. Prep is just as fun as cooking and so much less stressful. Every component in separate containers.
5. Fines Herbs- Parsley, tarragon, chervil, & chives. Now I know chervil is basically nonexistent in grocery stores, so don’t worry too much about that one. The key is tarragon. That little punch of bright fresh anise can turn nearly anything into something spectacular. Add it so salads, sauces, pasta, braises, roasts. Literally anything will benefit from some fines.
6. Heat- Just get into the habit of unplugging the smoke detector nearest your kitchen (or just take it down, like me 🤷♂️) Proper searing means high heat which means smoke and normal home exhaust hoods are garbage. Open a window, turn a fan on, and crank that gas up to 11.
7. Heat Control- Now that you’ve cranked it to 11 and possibly had the fire department come say hello, its time to learn how to control the heat. A hard sear is quick and fast. You want caramelization because that means flavor. What happens next depends on what’s in your pan. If it’s meat, it should be going into a hot oven. Veg? Deglaze and cover.
8. Pans- “Non-stick” is garbage. Throw it away. All Clad is king. Stainless steel pans is the way. A cheaper option is aluminum but if you can’t handle #7, I’d steer clear for now.
9. Knives- You don’t need 15 crappy knives at home. Stop buying sets of cheap knives. Minimum, you need three: 8"-10" chef , 6" utility, and a pairing knife. If you want to step it up a notch, add a 12" slicer and maybe a serrated bread knife. Spend good money on Japanese steel and either learn how to keep them sharp (buy some wet stones) or have a *reputable* knife sharpener sharpen them every few months.
10. Spoons- Where I come from, we call spoons “tools of refinement.” I have them tattooed on my forearms. After a knife, spoons are the most used and cherished tools in a high-end professional kitchen. Tongs are for TGI Fridays. That said, we all have a pair of tongs at home. Just stop using them. Other than cooking over live fire, spoons offer so much more control and don’t destroy the product you’re moving. They can flip, turn, sauce, baste, & quenelle. They’re a universal tool. Big serving-style spoons are what you want to look for. Good cooks have their own set of spoons that live in their knife roll.