How to Be a Better Cook

Anyone who knows me knows of my love for cooking. I have been working in restaurants for about four years as well as cooking and experimenting with food at home. Like anything worth doing, becoming a good cook takes time. You need to allow yourself to make mistakes, messes and burn things. Once you feel confident, you can look in your pantry and whip up a quick and delicious meal fairly easily with whatever random ingredients you have. I am no expert, but I love to cook and am constantly improving. Here are some of the things that have helped me the most, and some ways for you to jumpstart your food journey. 

 

Prep is extremely important

Once you have your recipe and ingredients, read through and see what you can do ahead of time. Should you be marinating? Do you need to dry out the bread before you put it in the stuffing? A lot of recipes will have one element that needs to be done in advance, so make sure you don’t forget to do it. Also, this is crucial: pre-measure all of your ingredients and lay everything out before you start cooking. Use small bowls for spices and herbs, chop all of the veg and measure all of your liquids. Get everything ready so when you add heat, you don’t have to worry about missing an ingredient or burning your garlic while chopping an onion. 

 

Keep your workspace clean

“Keep your station clear!” If your counter is a mess, your food will be a mess. If everything is prepped and premeasured, you can clean up before starting to cook. Rachel Ray was onto something when she always had a big bowl on hand for waste. Always clean the cutting board after raw meat, get rid of scraps, put things back in the fridge and pantry after you’ve used them, and keep a washcloth nearby for your hands. 

 

Start with easy recipes that have lots of steps

To prepare yourself for more complicated dishes, start with simple recipes that take a lot of time. This will allow you to learn a lot with low stakes. Chicken Parmesan from scratch is perfect for this. You will need to pre-marinate the chicken, use the stovetop, the oven to melt the cheese and simultaneously have to cook pasta. It might seem like a lot, but it's hard to mess this one up. I put my own Chicken Parm recipe at the end of this article for you to try.

Chicken piccata

Watch videos of people cooking

I learned a lot by watching people at work. You can learn technique, process and organization. However, not everyone has access to a commercial kitchen, so use the internet. Not to toot my own horn but I have been watching Bon Appetit for three years. (Who remembers when Brad made cheesesteaks? That was my first video.) I also like the series Basics with Babish because he really breaks everything down and you can see everything he does very clearly. On the Food Network, Barefoot Contessa is my favorite because it's so calming, and everything is so simple and aesthetically pleasing. I also like to watch Giada De Laurentiis because I love Italian food. 

 

Use good recipes

This one’s important. It’s kind of like when your teachers tell you not to use Wikipedia as a source for an essay. Before you're able to read the recipe and automatically know what needs to be changed, get your recipes from reputable sources. Websites like AllRecipes where anyone can upload are a little spooky to me. Yah, it seems like it would be good, but are you sure? Websites like Bon Appetit and Epicurious are free, and every recipe has been developed in a test kitchen and made by multiple chefs before being published. Bon Appetit has a subsection called “Basically”, where every recipe has 10 ingredients or less. It's a great way to try out some simpler dishes. 

 

Take your time and use good ingredients

Using the right ingredients makes your job easier and it makes the overall flavor much better. Good ingredients do not need to be expensive. Don’t go to Whole Foods or fancy specialty stores if you don’t need to. Use fresh instead of frozen wherever you can and stay away from both pre-chopped veg and herbs in a paste form. Often those are more expensive, and you want your ingredients to be prepped right before cooking. A huge pet peeve of mine is pre-chopped garlic in a jar. I mean come on. Chopping garlic takes five minutes and is way more flavorful. Also, give yourself time. Do not rush yourself. If you finish something too early for dinner time, put your oven on 200 degrees and keep the food warm until it’s time to eat. That is way better than thinking something can be done in 20 minutes but it ends up taking 45 and is a complete mess.

 

Season your food

Some people have a real issue with this, and I do not know why. I see too many TikToks about white people cooking bland food. Stop being afraid of salt and use it. If a recipe asks for a certain amount of something, it is for a reason. Don’t skimp out on spices because you don’t want it to be too spicy or you think looks like a lot. Taste your food every so often. If it seems to be missing something, it is probably salt. Use kosher salt - the flakes are larger than table salt and the flavor is less sharp. Not sure if this makes sense, but table salt is saltier than kosher salt. Keep a little bit of kosher salt nearby while you cook so you can sprinkle pinches in anytime. Pro tip: when seasoning things, hold your hand high above whatever you’re seasoning.  It will be distributed more evenly and not overpower a small surface area. 

 

I love to cook. It is relaxing, and it gives my a brain challenge for a little while. It is true that anyone can be a good cook. Put in the time, invest in good tools and you are well on your way. As long as you have a good recipe, give yourself time and prep all the ingredients you should be fine. Use this time at home to practice cooking some dinners for yourself or your family. As promised, here is my own recipe for Chicken Parm. I like it with linguini but use whatever pasta you like. 

 

chicken parm

 

Chicken Parmesan

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 large chicken breasts filleted through the middle to make six total
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • Tomato sauce- homemade or jarred
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella (NOT shredded)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil

 

Directions:

Ahead of time

Whisk eggs, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish big enough to hold all the chicken. Coat all the chicken in the egg mixture. Cover the dish and put it in the fridge overnight or do it the morning of. Try to leave it at least 6 hours for maximum flavor. 

 

  1. Heat oven to 430 degrees
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, panko, parm, and garlic powder in a shallow dish (you can use a paper plate for easy clean up)
  3. Coat all the chicken pieces completely in the breadcrumb mixture
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large pan on the stove. Wait until it is fragrant and shimmering.
  5. Fry the chicken breasts in the oil until they are golden brown. Flip after 2 or 3 minutes. Make sure the oil is not too hot. You can keep adjusting the heat if you need to. 
  6. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray it with non-stick spray. 
  7. Arrange the chicken on the baking sheet.
  8. Using a spoon, top each piece of chicken with tomato sauce. 
  9. Slice the mozzarella into very thin pieces and lay them on top of the sauce.
  10. Evenly sprinkle the fresh basil on top of the mozzarella.
  11. Bake 15-20 min. After, move the chicken right under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to lightly brown the cheese. 
  12. Serve with pasta and fresh grated parmesan cheese