Seven ways you’re ruining your food, and why knife abilities are life abilities | Adam Liaw

Too much of this, too little of that its not hard to screw up your cook. But how can a blunt knife ruin your food? Simple

Being a good cook isnt a magical skill that allows you to conjure delicious food from nothing. The truth is, ingredients savor pretty great anyway, and good cook is often simply a matter of attaining sure we dont bolt it up. But bolt it up we so often do. Here are seven ways to ruin your food.

1. You avoid seasoning

Ive written a lot about seasoning food but Ill repeat it because seasoning really is the number one, scientifically proven, universally recommended key to cooking well. If youre watching your sodium and choose not to salt your steak, or you leave out the pinch of sugar that would balance a sour tomato sauce, thats your privilege, but you should know that that one decision can be the difference between brilliant or bland.

And of course by seasoning Im talking about saltiness, sweetness, sourness, bitterness and umami not herbs and spices

2. You lean too heavily on herbs and spices

While were on herbs and spices, relying on them to construct your food savor good is a great way to miss the point entirely. They can be great accents for many dishes, but they wont stimulate bad cooking good and will often make it worse. In the earlier days of processed food, shake-on spice mixtures were all the rage. A flick of the wrist and your chicken could be covered in Cajun seasoning or your roasted beef could take on the flavour of herbes de Provence.

The real benefit of these early spice mixtures, however, was adding extra salt and the umami of MSG to under-seasoned food. Theres nothing wrong with herbs and spices per se, but their overuse has been a classic suit of misdirection. We were sold on the idea that spices were inducing our food taste good, when in fact it was just a vehicle for loading on the salt and MSG. I have no problem with salt or MSG either, truth be told, but its a common mistake to think that if some herbs and spices are inducing your food savour good, then more will make it savour better. Ive ate far too many meals overwhelmed with the contents of a spice rack when just good clean flavors would have been very welcome.

Theres nothing incorrect with herbs and spices per se, but their overuse has been a classic case of misdirection. Photograph: Alamy

3. You overcook it

Well, duh, I hear you say. Of course we all try to avoid overcooking our food if at all possible, but we dont often pause to think about whether our notion of how much food to cook is even right in the first place. Almost every cuisine in the world has made a habit of severely overcooking just about everything, a relic of a less sanitary past. Meat was cooked until dull and grey, chicken induced rubbery with all semblance of moisture long gone, and vegetables rendered limper than wet newspaper these arent unfortunate blunders, theyve been the actual goals of cookery for centuries. In French cooking at least, the idea of eating a crisp green bean is little more than 40 years old.

Our modern-day understanding of food security allows us to eat medium-rare meat, pinkish poultry and crunchy veggies where even simply a few decades ago they would have been unthinkable. Many may still favor well-done fillet steaks, soggy carrots and insipid beans, but then theres no accounting for savour, is there?

4. You stay in your consolation zone

The median family cooks just five dishes, and recurs them again and again. From one perspective you could say that practise attains perfect, but if “youve never” come across new ideas youre just as likely to be attaining the same mistakes over and over.

Ive eaten dishes at Spanish eateries that have changed the route I cook Chinese food, and stolen techniques from Michelin-starred restaurants that I utilize for a simple Sunday afternoon barbecue. Every period you learn and change the way you cook it changes for the very best. After all, you wouldnt do it if it made your food worse, would you?

5. You use a blunt knife

Knife abilities are life abilities, and learning how to employ, maintain and sharpen a knife is one of the most important things you will ever do in a kitchen. But how can a sharp knife affect your food? Simple. A huge part of cooking is creating texture, whether its in how you cut something or how you cook something thats already been cut.

There are few foods that dont pass under a knife at some stage before they reached our lips. A good, sharp knife will make fine and consistent cuts for fine and consistent texture. Never, ever underestimate how important that is.

6. You use too little petroleum

Fat has been the bad guy ever since manufacturers realised they could take it out of foods like milk and yoghurt and replace it with sugar, and then charge a premium for it. But fat is vital for good cooking: it savor good, it carries flavour and it induces us more satisfied but most importantly its necessary for so many of the cooking processes we use in our kitchens every day.

A well-oiled pan will give you even heat for creating tasty brown crusts on food, it will separate out water that will otherwise steam food at too low a temperature and it will stop fish and meat from sticking to your pots. Trying to cook in a traditional style while removing fat from the process is like trying to drive a car after youve removed the tyres.

Fat is vital for good cook.

7. You rush to eat it

Good things come to those who wait, and never a truer word was said about food. The list of foods that are spoiled by rushing them is long and distinguished. Serve a stew before the meat is truly softened? Pour a sauce five minutes before its reduced enough to concentrate its flavour? Skip resting your steak because you just damn well want to eat it?

I could list hundreds of other examples, but any of these will be the last-hurdle stumble that ruins a perfectly good dinner. Sometimes your most valuable tool in the kitchen is patience.

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