100 Ways to Be a Better Cook: These Pro Secrets Will Help You Perfect Any Recipe

Kitchen experts from recipe developers to chefs to cookbook authors share their best tips and tricks for enhancing flavor and perfecting your technique.

Photo: Maya Visnyei

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6. Fresh herbs are for finishing

“Even if a recipe calls for herbs at the beginning of cooking time, feel free to add some chopped herbs at the end,” says Tara Bench, recipe developer and author of Live Life Deliciously. “This will enhance the essence of flavor cooked into the dish, plus it looks amazing.”

7. Salt your salad greens

Even if you’re using a dressing, add a pinch of salt to your salad greens just before tossing to brighten the flavor.

8. Brine your chicken

Brining boneless, skinless chicken breasts will make all the difference in flavor and juiciness. Never made your own brine before? It’s easy! Dissolve ¼ cup coarse salt in 2 cups of warm water, then stir in 2 cups cold water. Add the chicken, cover and chill for at least 15 minutes, or up to 2 hours.

9. Buy spices at ethnic markets

Asian, Middle Eastern or other ethnic markets not only tend to be less expensive than supermarkets, but the spices are usually fresher, too.

10. Balance flavors

The key to great flavor is a balance of sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami (savory), says chef Sara Moulton, host of Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS and author of Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101. If you go too far on one, you can fix it by adding another (for example, a touch of sweetness can balance acidity, and salt can fix bitterness).

11. Account for pan color

Darker-colored pans absorb more heat than lighter ones, resulting in more caramelization – great for roasting vegetables but not so much for a delicate cake. For the latter, lower the oven temperature by 25°F.

12. Mellow out your garlic

To tame garlic before adding it to dressings and sauces, place it and a small amount of fat in an unheated skillet. Heat on low; when it begins to sizzle, cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

13. Use all five senses

“Learn to intuitively use all five senses,” says Teri Hull, cooking school manager for Stonewall Kitchen. “Smell the aromas and sometimes the burn, know what food looks like when it’s fully cooked, listen for a healthy sizzle and know what too much sounds like, touch your food to gauge the proper firmness, and, most importantly, taste as you go.”

14. Build flavor in layers

“If you’re going to braise, make sure you sear first,” says James Peisker, co-founder and COO of Nashville-based sustainable butcher Porter Road. “Sweat the onions and bring out their natural sugars. Let tomato paste caramelize to bring out those rich, deep flavors.”

15. Use ingredients in unexpected ways

Fish sauce can add a touch of umami to a salad dressing; miso can take deviled eggs to a whole different place.

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