Like in anything, mistakes in cooking can really hinder the finished result of what we’re doing and a lot of the time, we don’t even realise we’re making them. Without any added stress or effort, these mistakes are easily avoidable and your food will be made all the better without them.
A dish without salt and pepper will lack flavour, that’s a culinary truth. Now I am absolutely aware of the health complications and worries that can arise in a diet with too much salt, and we, of course, should all be weary of this in our cooking. But what I think people need to remember is that the amount of salt that goes into a dish is different from the amount that ends up on the plate. I may use a large pinch or two of salt when making a Bolognese for example, which on its own does look like a lot, but that’s not the amount that I or the people I’m cooking for are going to be eating. When used generously but not excessively salt won’t make your food salty, it will just elevate the flavours of the ingredients already in your dish. No other ingredient in cooking can do this, so salt is essential. Start off with about a teaspoon in a dish if you’re cooking for multiple people, then taste and change accordingly. And always add salt after all your other ingredients, because it’s the flavour of those that is being elevated. As for pepper, another often misinterpreted ingredient, similar rules apply. Unlike salt, pepper doesn’t make ingredients taste better, but is like salt in that it doesn’t make your dish taste of pepper, it simply adds a necessary background flavour of subtle savouriness that, in my opinion, every dish needs.
I recognise that this seems like an obvious point, but what I think is so common amongst people who cook, especially those just starting out in cooking, is a lack of confidence in their own taste buds. A dish or a meal is something you’re making, so trust your taste buds and your instincts. If you think a certain ingredient could work in a dish then try it, taste it and see what you think. Within reason, of course, don’t start putting mayonnaise in your pavlova on a whim for example. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, tasting your dish along the way and as you’re making it is essential for maximum flavour. Dishes change as they cook and as different things are added, so every now and then take a spoonful and taste it. See what the dish needs, what it needs no more of or if it needs cooking for longer. Cooking is a process and tasting a dish throughout its own process will result in its best possible flavour in its end result.
I, more than anyone, understand the stress that comes with being hungry and your food not being ready, but patience in cooking can be very important. When making a dish, particularly one that involves a sauce or ingredients that, in their simple form, aren’t particularly exciting like tinned tomatoes or vegetables, for example, time can add a lot of flavour. Allowing a dish to sit on the hob or cook in the oven at a lower heat but for a longer time can make its flavour more developed and far tastier. Soups, pasta sauces, stews, curries, sauces and anything similar need time for the ingredients to reach their maximum flavour. Essentially what you’re doing is allowing the liquid watery-ness of it to bubble and cook away, so what you end up with is pure and developed flavour. I also have to point out that, with recipes like lasagne, cakes, pies or anything that comes out the oven piping hot, waiting before your next step, or serving is very important. If you take a lasagne or a crumble for example out the oven and try to spoon out a serving straight away, it’s all going to land on the plate in one big slop. So just wait a bit, 5 or 10 minutes, just to allow the dish to cool down a bit and become a bit firmer, you’ll enjoy your meal far more because of it.
Being confident in the kitchen is the best way to be successful in the kitchen. As someone who loves cooking, seeing people not allowing themselves or not seeing themselves confident or able enough to cook is upsetting. Anyone can be a good a cook, it just takes a certain level of commitment and willingness to get involved to do so. If you embark upon a recipe, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before, and you’re nervous and keep thinking it’s all going to go wrong then it probably will. The kitchen is not somewhere to be weary or afraid of, it’s somewhere to relax and make good food. And good food comes from a good cook and a good cook is a confident one. Don’t see a recipe as a challenge, see it as an invitation to make something delicious and execute it will full confidence and laid back ease. That way your cooking will be far easier and your food more tasty.