For beginners, cooking from scratch is not an easy task. Even for experienced cooks, getting a perfect recipe each time can be a difficult task. There are some common mistakes that beginner cooks make which ruin a dish, but which can easily be fixed.
Here are the top ten cooking mistakes that can be fixed to help you create a perfect dish:
When a recipe asks you to mix together a batter, whisk some ingredients together, or knead some dough, make sure you do not overdo it. A lot of times, beginners want to make sure everything is thoroughly mixed in and even, which leads to them overdoing it. For batter and dough, over mixing and over kneading leads to extra air in the mixture and causes air bubbles when it is being cooked.
In addition, it leads to a chewy and dense texture due to the over development of the gluten proteins caused by the over mixing. Extra air in the recipe when whisking together eggs or other mixtures also tends to lead to stiffness when cooked. There is no real trick in knowing when to stop mixing, which is why practice makes perfect when cooking. When I cook, I tend to stir slightly until I see that the ingredients are uniform and that the wet and dry ingredients are combined (no streaks) and I stop. It does not have to be completely uniform since most of the time, the mixture will still have to be poured.
Overcrowding a pan, a pot, a baking tray leads to the uneven cooking of a dish. Not only is it important to let the ingredients all sit near the center of the cooking surface, it is important that they do not touch each other on all surfaces to ensure that they will cook evenly. Overcrowding a pan leads to some ingredients that are burned, while some ingredients are still raw. This can be dangerous, especially when dealing with raw meats -- so take your time and use two pans or split up the dish.
3. Not letting meats rest.
A lot of beginners make the mistake of cutting into a piece of meat right away and serving it on a dish when they take it off the heat. This leads to the juices flowing out and a soggy mess. It also causes the meat not to be as flavorful or tender as it could be.
In addition, it can lead to undercooking the meat, since a lot of recipes have the cooking time a bit shorter so the residual heat that is left over when the meat is resting can finish off the cooking. The time the meat has to rest depends on the size of the cut. A large meatloaf should rest for 10 to 20 minutes before being carved. Steaks, chicken, or chops should rest for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.
4. Not having even knife cuts
A skill every chef should learn is how to evenly cut ingredients. Not only does this help the presentation of the dish, it also helps the ingredients cook evenly. If you have a piece of meat in your pan twice the size of other ones, and another piece of meat that is thinly sliced next to one with twice the thickness, you are going to end up with unevenly cooked, raw, and burnt ingredients in a dish. This is another skill that should be practiced. An easier way to get even knife cuts is to invest in a chef’s knife and keep it sharp.
5. Not tasting as you go
Many beginner cooks make the mistake of tasting a dish at the end. This is a big mistake since a dish cannot be fixed when it is finished. Most dishes, however, if it is too salty, sweet, or bland can be saved during the cooking process by adding extra water, using extra oil, and so on. Do not be afraid to use seasoning and keep it by your side. Many bland dishes are caused by chefs that underestimate what a “pinch” or a “sprinkle” of the seasoning is.
6. Putting cold food in a hot pan or not having a hot enough pan
Many beginners make the mistake of taking food directly from the freezer or not having warmed up a little bit before it onto a hot pan. This can cause the pan to warm and may also lead to uneven cooking -- overcooked on the outside, and still ice cold on the inside. In addition, when cooking in a pan, make sure that is it hot enough before you put any food in it.
Before you put food in your pan, give it a little time to heat up before adding any food. The heat helps seal the flavor and the moisture of the food on the inside. If you put food in while the pan is not hot enough, the food will release all its moisture and you will end up with a soggy mess. A hot pan should sizzle when you put food on it. If you don’t hear the sizzle, take the food out and wait for the temperature of the pan to rise.
7. Not drying off food after washing
Haphazardly dabbing food off with a paper towel and then cooking it is a mistake that can be fixed. It causes the dish to become soggy or watered down. This is an easy mistake to fix. For fruits and vegetables, you can invest in a salad spinner. For meats, use paper towels to dry off the meat and let it dry off for a couple of minutes before cooking.
8. Not reading the entire recipe
It is important to read the entire recipe before you begin. This can save many dishes from being sabotaged, especially if the recipe is written online and unclear at some points. If it asks you to pour in the ingredients in one step, read further and see if you need to save some for later. If it asks you to bring water to a boil to blanch some vegetables in the middle of the recipe, you can do that in the beginning with the prep work to cut down on some time.
9. Following a recipe completely
A recipe from a cookbook is a guide. As a cook, you should be creative and make dishes how you like it to taste. If a recipe asks you to add in red pepper flakes and you really cannot tolerate spice, leave it out. If a recipe calls for a pinch of salt and you feel that it is not enough, feel free to add more. The fun part about cooking is creating a dish and making it how you like.
10. Not washing your hands or tools
Every time you handle a raw meat with your bare hands, you should wash them with soap and warm water for 2 minutes before returning to handle other ingredients. In addition, make sure you do not cross contaminate your dishes. If you are chopping raw chicken with one knife on a cutting board, find another cutting board and another knife to chop your vegetables. Many causes of food poisoning can simply be avoided by hand washing, keeping the tools clean, and stopping cross-contamination.
How many of these ten common errors do you make in the kitchen? Fortunately, most of these mistakes are easily fixable. Hopefully, after reading this, your next dish will be more delicious.
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