Maybe you’re a Los Angeles cooking school student hoping to be culinary professional one day. Maybe you’re a working professional with a culinary arts degree who is looking for a way to stand out from the competition. Or maybe you’re a homemaker who just wants to cook tastier meals for you and your family. No matter what you are, we’ve put together this list of five things that will help improve your cooking.
- Fresh Herbs – The spice rack may be the dirtiest trick ever played on the home cook. You don’t need it. And you sure as heck shouldn’t want it if you really want to cook professional-quality meals. Only use dried herbs if a recipe specifically calls for it; otherwise, go fresh. Fresh herbs are easier than ever to come by. Specialty food stores and high-end grocery stores have whatever you need whenever you need it. If there are none of those in your neighborhood, then grow them yourself. Stop by Wal-Mart and pick up a windowsill herb garden and have fresh herbs like parsley, chives, basil, mint, rosemary, and thyme around all year round. And whatever is left over makes a great looking and great tasting garnish.
- A Good Chef’s Knife – A high-quality chefs knife is one of the best investments you can make for your kitchen and your ability to perform well there. And contrary to what they tell you at the kitchen supply store, you don’t need an entire set of expensive knives. Any Chicago cooking school student can tell you that a good chef’s knife will take care of more than 90% of your cutting needs. You can fill in with a good paring, boning, and large serrated blade later. Until then seek out six- to eight-inch chef’s knives from Wusthof, Henkel, or Global.
- Butter – Sure butter is high in fat, but butter is also high in flavor. One of the biggest differences between your cooking and that of a professional chef is the liberal use of butter. They use it everywhere, all of the time. Nearly every sauce begins and ends with butter. Sautéed anything doesn’t happen without butter. If a recipe calls for margarine or butter, choose butter. The few calories you save will come at the expense of richness, texture, and flavor. Besides, most researchers say that the artificial stuff in margarine is just as bad, if not worse, than the fat and calories in butter.
- Homemade Stock – The bland, overly salty store-bought stock might be good in a pinch, but it is no way to serve really great food at home. Fresh, homemade stock is the lifeblood of professional kitchens everywhere. Sure they have the equipment and manpower to make gallon after gallon of it, but these kitchens are also working businesses. If they thought for a minute they could replace their fresh, homemade stocks with the canned variety they would. It would be far cheaper for sure. It would also decrease the quality of their food.
- Shallots and Fresh Garlic – Okay, this is a two for one here and not just to keep our list to five instead of six. Shallots and fresh garlic literally go hand-in-hand. It is rare that you will ever see a recipe that calls for one and not the other. Think about combining them with your homemade stock and some red wine to make a delicious demi-glace. And make sure the garlic is fresh. The pre-minced stuff jarred in olive oil is probably already rancid and nearly flavorless before it hits the store shelf. Buy it fresh and don’t keep it around forever.
You may not become the next Iron Chef by adding these five things to your kitchen repertoire, but the quality of your meals will greatly improve if you do. You may not have a culinary arts degree, but there no saying that you shouldn’t be able to cook like you do.
This article is presented by Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles offers culinary arts and pâtisserie and baking training programs in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit Chefs.edu/Los-Angeles for more information.
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