Basic Rules of Cooking
by Marilyn Santiago
Mise en Place
- Read The Recipe All the Way Through. Our recipes come with an ingredients list, procedures and equipment. If you are cooking for more or less than the recipe is called for, it's alright to multiply or divide the ingredients according to your needs. Most recipes scale for a little less or more than it is written for. You will need to ensure that your cooking pots and pans are also appropriately scaled. When reading a recipe, you'll want to imagine the process of cooking, seeing yourself actually doing. Think of it like a rehearsal before the show. Bear in mind that recipes are written with listing ingredients in the order that they are introduced in the procedures.
- Keep Substitutions To A Minimum. Unless you have certain allergies to certain ingredients, do keep substitutions to a minimum. While there are judicious substitutions to many ingredients, we advise against it in the class to keep surprises that may arise to a minimum.
- Have A Good Mise En Place. Yes, a fancy French word for 'put in place' but a very important first step to being great in the kitchen. You'll amaze all your friends at how calm your kitchen will be even in a blizzard of dishes. The online LIVE classes are at a moderately brisk pace, so setting up your ingredients in an organized manner, i.e., having a good mise en place, will go a long way towards ensuring a smoother process. It's also a good idea to read through the equipment list so that you have these at hand. Do set aside a prep area in your kitchen for chopping and mixing.
- Follow The Procedures Even If You Know A Better Way. For order while in the class we recommend you follow along exactly as the recipe is written even if you know another or better way. You are welcome to point out an easier or novel way and we may well incorporate this in future classes.
- Dress For Success. Just like a new outfit gets you motivated, designate your very own cooking outfit or a special apron for the event. Feel the part of a great cook and you're on your way to being one. Bear in mind an apron is a protective covering for your clothes beyond a personal statement. It is not to be used to wipe hands. See our article on basic hygiene.
- Taste as you cook. The process of cooking begins with science but it is also an art form. The science of cooking helps us creates flavors and textures. Tasting as you layer on ingredients and move from one procedure to another will help you develop flavor as you grow as a cook. As you deepen your understanding of the role and balance of flavor, the artistry of cooking will evolve. So taste often and judiciously. A finger lickin' taste of a sauce will not yield a correct impression but a spoonful will. A spoonful taste of vinaigrette will cause you to re-balance a salad dressing wrongly, but a leaf dipped in the dressing will yield better results. So, tasting often is essential to good cooking and certainly before plating.
- Keep an eye out while you cook. Cooking changes your foods' flavor, texture, moisture. If you've under cooked a dish, you can often cook it longer, but you can't cook something less that you've already overcooked. When dealing with heat, you may need to make adjustments in temperature, cooking times, how often you stir or flip. When baking, it's a good idea to set the timer to half the time to remind you to check your work's progress before over baking is irreversible.
- Never Give Up. Keep trying to replicate that sublime flavor or that favorite dish you tried at your neighbor's, that quirky restaurant downtown or while on holiday. If your dish did not work the first or second time around, ask yourself what you can do better or differently. And ask your instructors and fellow students at Home Chef Workshop. The process is truly worth it when you can one day soon smile at the success of having achieved your desired result.