You know, there are a whole lot of things I’ve learned over the years working in restaurants. Some of these things are actually incredibly easy and cheap food hacks that will take your cooking and flavors to a whole new level, even without spending a ton of money or buying a bunch of perishable items. It seems like it’s high time to make sure that you guys have access to this info! (Other valuable restaurant lessons have included learning to swear fluently in several languages and break up intensely physical fights between grown men without involving the authorities. I’ve really learned an enormous variety of life lessons in kitchens…)
These techniques/tricks/food hacks might seem like really basic stuff to some of you out there, but after talking to people who have decided to focus their lives on topics other than food and eating, I realized that it might be a good idea to go back to the basics and tell people my top five little techniques for becoming a better chef! I’m specifically choosing techniques here that will be simple, rather than focusing on adding things that might be tough to find or crazy expensive. No recipes, no special tools, no techniques that take hours, days, or weeks. Just quick and dirty food hacks for better flavor. We can cover the complicated tricks in the future!
Anne’s Top Five Cooking Hacks for Better Flavor
Taste everything! Seriously. Try it! Once you start tasting and deciding what you like and what you get excited to eat, you will change your entire approach to food and cooking. Do you have a strawberry? Try it room temp, hot, and frozen. Sprinkle it with salt. Drizzle it with olive oil. Like the olive oil and salt? What about with parsley or basil? Cilantro? Scallion? Try it with an olive! Strawberries with black olives are amazing and until you start tasting things, you probably won’t discover that! You can build an amazing salad with strawberries and black olives, especially if you add some black pepper and chili flakes to the mix. A tougher green will be able to stand up to those flavors, so check it out with spinach or kale. If you like those, then try it with broccoli or brussels sprouts! Still with me? Give your strawberries and olives a try as a base or a garnish for fish, steak, or chicken! No crazy techniques here. It’s just flavors! Spend your life tasting everything! (See what I did there?)
Like the food you’re eating? Try sprinkling a little good quality salt like Maldon over the top. Good restaurants everywhere do this, and it is a total game-changer. Trust me! If you like Maldon, try other salts. French Grey, Celtic Grey, Hawaiian Red, Black Lava, Himalayan Pink, there are thousands to choose from and each one is a little different and perfect for a different use. When you’re ready, you can start making your own flavored salts, like this chipotle pork salt!
Try a splash of acidity! It brightens and wakes up your food in an amazing way. Squeeze lemon juice over your rice. Drizzle balsamic over your peaches, plums, and berries. Add a splash of cider vinegar when you’re sautéing or roasting your vegetables! There’s not a recipe here that I didn’t use this simple technique with, but here are a few, including the petrale sole, the salmon tartare, and the healthy baked sweet potato fries with scallion-cilantro vinaigrette!
Add a dash of heat! A small pinch of chilies or a dash or two of hot sauce will make your food exciting before it makes it too spicy. Mix a little into a salad dressing or some beans and see what you think! When you want to, you can make your own hot sauces and spicy oils as well, like this crazy simple chili oil, the szechuan-chili oil, and the kimchi inspired fermented hot sauce recipes!
So you have produce. Like it raw? Kind of, maybe? Try it pickled, preserved, or fermented! It goes back to the acidity thing, and really makes that umami-loving part of your brain very, very happy. Onions, carrots, and jalapeños, of course, but the list of things that pickle well is pretty endless. Scallions, celery, mushrooms, cauliflower, chard stems, mustard seeds, elderberries, and garlic pickle incredibly well, just to name a few. Things like cabbage and brussels sprouts also make amazing kimchi when you get comfortable.
These are just a few of the most basic food hacks for better flavor you can keep in mind when you’re building your meal plans. Just by grabbing a fancy salt and a bottle or two of vinegar and hot sauce, and suddenly you’ll be able to take your food to the next level. Plus, once you have the vinegar, you just need salt, sugar and water to make a solid pickle! Here’s a really basic recipe for pickled jalapeños, and you can use that as a base for most pickled vegetables while you’re getting comfortable with the process! At it’s most basic, pickling food just requires vinegar, salt, sugar, and water. There’s a world of options after that, but start simple! Those pickled vegetables will be amazing in salads and sandwiches, next to meat and fish, and will even pop with a simple soup.
So those are the top five simple and basic food hacks that won’t break the bank!