Lifestyle

'Taste. Think. Tweak' – chefs' 20 top kitchen tips


After all these months of pandemic, things need to be mixed up. If you’re anything like me, then your cooking routine has ossified into an endless cycle of the same dreary repertoire, repeated over and over again. If you want to shake yourself out of it, it might be a good idea to learn some new kitchen skills. We asked chefs for their top kitchen tips, from how to handle a knife to how to cook fish properly.

Knife skills

1. Keep them sharp
Stuart Ralston, chef owner of Noto, Edinburgh
“Sharp knives allow you to do your prep faster and more safely,” says Ralston, pointing out that duller knives tend to promote slips and cuts. “Invest in something like an AnySharp. It’s a knife sharpener that suctions to your countertop, that you simply slide your knives through.”

2. Learn the pinch grip
James Devonshire, head of Daylesford Cookery School, Gloucestershire
This is the correct, and safest, way to hold a knife when chopping, says Devonshire. “Hold the knife just above the top of the handle and the back part of the blade, keeping your fingers away from the blade. With the tip of the knife resting on the chopping board and the heel of the blade slightly raised, push forward through the food using a sliding motion and bring the heel of the blade gently down. Protect your fingers by always holding your non-dominant hand in a ‘claw position’ with your fingertips tucked in.”

3. Prevent slips
Tom Brown, chef owner of Cornerstone, London
“Place a wet cloth under your chopping board,” says Brown. This will prevent it from “slipping all over the place while allowing you to cut safely”.

Chopping onions.
Photograph: Alesha Graber/Getty Images/EyeEm

Chopping and peeling

4. How to chop an onion
Martin Hollis, executive chef at The Old Course Hotel, Golf Resort and Spa, St Andrews
“When cutting an onion, peel it and cut in half through the root. Then place the flat side down the board with the root facing away from you. Slice the onion towards the root but not cutting through the root – this is so the onion will not fall to pieces – then turn the onion on the board and cut horizontally across the onion, giving you a nice even dice.”

5. How to chop root vegetables
Richard Bainbridge, chef owner of Benedicts, Norwich
“Flatten one side of the vegetable by cutting off one side, so it sits flat on the chopping board and gives you the control to cut the vegetable confidently. And always angle your knife away from you.”

6. Crush garlic without a crusher
James Devonshire, head of Daylesford Cookery School, Gloucestershire
“Roughly slice the garlic. Hold the knife in a pinch grip, tilt it to a 45-degree angle with the flat of the blade pointing down and the sharp blade resting on the chopping board. And then, with control, slowly drag the knife back across the garlic to squash it.”

Peeling ginger.
Photograph: John Clark Photo/Getty Images
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7. Peel ginger with a spoon
Shuko Oda, chef at Koya Soho
“When peeling ginger, it’s best to use a teaspoon instead of a knife or peeler. As with a lot of vegetables, the flavour lies just beneath the skin, so you want to try and avoid discarding this by peeling it all off with a knife. Using a spoon will allow you to ‘scrape’ rather than peel.”

8. Juicing and zesting citrus
Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, chef at Decimo, London, and Casamia and Paco Tapas, Bristol
“If a recipe calls for lemon or lime juice, always push and roll the fruit on a surface beforehand. This will make juicing much easier, and more liquid will come out, so it’s a win-win. If you need the zest of the fruit, too, then zest before juicing. Use a fine grater or microplane to remove the colourful part of the peel until the white part is exposed. If you don’t have a grater, don’t worry – you can peel strips of the skin with a sharp knife and finely chop the zest for a similar result.”

Baking

9. Dealing with stubborn parchment
Gerhard Jenne, owner of Konditor, London
“When lining a flan or square cake tin, baking parchment can be really awkward and difficult to get into the corners. Help is at hand: tear off a large enough sheet, wet it under a running tap, squeeze out excess water and open it up. Now the paper has the properties of a soft cloth.”

10. Stop pastry from sticking
Jack Smith, head chef at Quaglino’s, London
“My two tips for stopping pastry sticking to a surface are pretty simple. The first is to use an adequate amount of flour on your rolling pin and on the surface. However, remember that using too much flour can cause dough to dry out and possibly crack, and for a softer dough such as bread or pizza dough, this can alter its structure. The second tip is to turn your pastry at each roll you make. This will mean the pastry doesn’t have enough time to stick, as it is constantly being lifted from the surface. It doesn’t matter which way you turn it, but it gives you the time to throw small amounts of flour underneath every few turns.”

Perfect kneading.
Photograph: KucherAV/Getty Images/iStockphoto

11. Perfect your kneading technique
Paul Baker, founder St Pierre Groupe, Manchester
“Before kneading bread dough, it should be sticky and a bit rough. Once you have worked with it, it should have a silky, smooth texture. Keep checking as you knead. Press your dough; if your finger leaves a dent, you’re not done yet. Tear off some dough and stretch it between two fingers. If it tears, then you still have work to do.”

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Rescuing

12. Saving an over-salted dish
Jack Smith, head chef at Quaglino’s, London
“Adding acidity in the form of lemon juice or white wine vinegar can mask the high salt content. Also – and this works well with curries – sugar can counteract the salt. For stews, adding chunks of potatoes will help to soak up the salt. Also, removing some of the jus and replacing with more liquid will do the same thing, but can jeopardise the flavour of the dish.”

13. Getting rid of smoke
Gerhard Jenne, owner of Konditor, London
“It happens to us all. Just before something is baked, the phone rings, you get distracted and next thing your baking efforts have gone up in smoke. You can’t bring it back but you can stop the smell from clouds of smoke once you open the oven door. Keep the oven shut, and fill a tub or bucket with cold water. Only then open the oven door and quickly tip your burned goodies in the bucket and cover them with water. This stops the smoke filling your accommodation.”

And finally …

14. Master emulsion sauces
Shaun Hill, chef patron at The Walnut Tree, Monmouthshire
“Most emulsions split because the ratio of oil or melted butter to non-oil liquid is out of kilter, not because there is anything amiss with your whisking skills or ingredient quality. Add a tablespoon of white wine or water to the yolks before whisking in the rest when making mayo, and two tablespoons of white wine per yolk for hollandaise. Similarly, if it has curdled then try whisking in a little warm vinegar or water to the sauce or dressing to bring it back to homogenous perfection.”

15. Hone your rice
Saiphin Moore, chef owner of Rosa’s Thai Cafe and Lao Café, London
“If you don’t have a rice cooker, it’s best to cook rice in a non-stick pan on the stove. Rinse your rice twice to get rid of excess starch and clean off any dust. You can measure the correct amount of water by covering the rice in the pan with cold water, and placing the tip of your index finger on top of the rice – the water needs to come up to the first knuckle. Cover the pan and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until all the water is evaporated.”

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16. Noodle hacks
Kaori Simpson, chef owner of Harajuku Kitchen, Edinburgh
“To make quick stir-fry noodles, drizzle a non-stick pan with sesame oil and use large cooking chopsticks to stir. This will make them fluffy.”

17. Perfect fish
Jun Tanaka, chef patron of The Ninth, London
“The best way of knowing when fish is cooked perfectly is by using a cocktail stick. If you gently insert a cocktail stick into a raw piece of fish, you will feel a slight resistance, but as the fish cooks, this resistance will gradually disappear. This method works with all fish that are off the bone. To practise this skill, try cooking a piece of fish for two minutes then insert a cocktail stick and see how this feels, then cook for a further two minutes and try again. At this point, the cocktail stick should slide in easily to begin with, but you will feel resistance in the centre of the fish. Repeat this process until the cocktail stick slides in without any resistance and then you know the fish is cooked perfectly.”

18. Searing meat
Paul Wedgwood, chef owner at Wedgwood the Restaurant, Edinburgh
“Always pat dry your proteins just before cooking to ensure you get a really nice crisp sear.”

Pickling.
Photograph: GMVozd/Getty Images

19. Pickling
Alex Bond, chef owner at Alchemilla, Nottingham
Good vegetables for pickling include cucumbers, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips and celeriac. Use a 3-2-1 ratio: three parts water, two parts vinegar and one part of sugar. Always make sure you fully submerge whatever you are pickling into the pickling liquor. Keep it in a dry, dark room for about a month. Keep on checking and tasting it, because the longer you pickle, the stronger the flavour and acidity. Once you are happy with it, refrigerate to halt the process.”

20. Taste as you go
Stevie Parle, chef owner of Craft London, Palatino and Joy, London
“It’s weird but sometimes even chefs don’t think properly when they taste what they’re cooking. Don’t just taste for salt – taste for acidity, for depth of flavour, for fat content, for spice, and learn to know how to adjust these things. Add a squeeze of lemon, a bit of vinegar, some more pepper or chilli, some parmesan or soy sauce, a knob of butter or a splash of olive oil. Just think how you want something to taste and adjust it accordingly. Getting the balance right makes dishes sing and can transform your food from fuel into something truly satisfying and invigorating. So do it all the time. Taste, think, tweak.”



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