From the tomato trifecta to easily removing burnt bits from roast pork, these are the chef-approved tips that you need to use in your kitchen.
The skill envy that comes with watching chefs on TV casually dice an onion in 20 seconds or twirl perfect nests of spaghetti onto a plate is real. We scratch our heads, lean in for a closer look and wonder: where did they pick that up? Could I do that?
The bad news is the second season of Good Food Kitchen, screening from today on 9Now, has plenty of these moments. Hosts Adam Liaw, Danielle Alvarez and Julia Busuttil Nishimura are joined by some of the country’s top cooking talent as they prepare easy harissa traybake chicken, impressive spring vegetable tarts and moreish caesar sandwiches.
The good news is we’ve asked each of the cooks to open their toolboxes and share one lesson that was an aha! moment for them in the kitchen.
Between these 13 bright sparks and leading names, there’s bound to be at least one thing for you to keep in your back pocket for the next time you’re at the stove.
Adam Liaw, Good Food Kitchen host and Good Food Contributor
Build a taste library
I organize my kitchen around the five tastes – salty, sour, sweet, savory and bitter – and then when I’m seasoning food, I can easily think about which one of those tastes I might need.
When I’m cooking something savory, such as a sauce, the things lacking will be sweet and sour. I grab something from the sour section of my pantry, such as a splash of vinegar going into a red wine sauce.
If you’re making salad dressing, that’s quite sour, so add a pinch of sugar for sweetness.
Tristan Rosier, chef-owner, arthurSydney
Perfect boiled eggs, every time
Poke a tiny hole in the bottom of an egg before you boil it and you’ll end up with a proper egg-shaped egg, rather than one with a flat bottom. It also makes the eggshell really easy to peel off because some water can get between the white and the membrane.
I use a metal skewer or the tip of a very fine paring knife to make the hole. It doesn’t need to be very deep. Poke through the shell and twist the skewer while you hold the egg still. A few minutes later, you’ll have symmetrical eggs.
Rosheen Kaul, head chef, And yourMelbourne
Bringing is beautiful
My aha! moment was eating brined chicken for the first time. I never, ever cook poultry without bringing it now, even at home.
It gives you a little more wiggle room if you overcook on the barbecue, for example, as the flesh stays juicy at much higher temperatures.
It’s so easy to do. The only thing you need is a big enough container to submerge a whole chicken!
That said, you can also brine cuts of chicken, especially chicken breasts, which can often get dry during cooking. Just cut the brine time in half.
Be very wary of over-brining, as the lovely tenderising effects of the salt can leave you with musky chicken if left too long.
How to brine a chicken
The ratio of salt to water you use depends entirely on time. Essentially, the less time you have, the more salt you use.
As a starting point, place the chicken in a large container on kitchen scales and tare the weight. Fill it with water until chicken is completely submerged, note the weight and then calculate how much salt you need using the guide below.
- Getting ready for a lunch the night before? Use a 2 per cent brine overnight (2 per cent = 20g salt per 1000g of water).
- Need it in a rush? That’s 7-8 per cent in one hour.
- Got three hours to make dinner? Use a 5-6 per cent brine.
Katrina Meynink, Good Food Contributor
Season your way out of a tight spot
Hands down, my greatest realization was that unless you have burned the shit out of something, so many cooking mistakes are easy to resolve just by seasoning correctly. When something tastes “off”, season it.
Reach for salt or acids first. Think sea salt flakes, lemon juice and/or zest. Taste again.
If it’s still not quite right, add some roundness, that is, fats. Olive oil or butter work here, as do anchovies melted in olive oil or a generous handful of parmesan. Taste again.
If it still needs something, introduce sweetness (a pinch of sugar or splash of maple syrup) at the very end.
It’s enlightening to know so many mistakes are actually fixable if you keep these basic principles in mind.
Paul Farag, chief executive, Aalia and nourSydney
Give your cooking a touch-up
If you’re ever cooking something where you want nice caramelisation, such as pork crackling or crisp-skin fish, if it gets too dark (but it’s not burnt) you can do a little touch-up to get it ready for presentation.
Take a Microplane, rub it back and forth over the burnt section of the skin and it will go away. Basically, you’re shaving off any blemishes until you get to the good bits.
If it’s burnt, it’s burnt. But if you’ve got a couple of corners that are a bit black and the rest is beautiful, use this trick.
Claire Van Vuuren, Chef-Owner, Bloodwood, Sydney
Ice, ice, baby
One of my favorite kitchen tricks is using ice and ice baths to keep greens and herbs vibrant and to stop them from browning, especially before serving them. It’s a really useful tip for salad season.
When blanch any kind of green (think: sugar snaps, green beans, broccoli, peas), after you finish cooking them, drop them straight into an ice bath for a couple of minutes and then drain and pat dry with paper towel.
This keeps them sweet, crunchy and green.
I also refresh herbs in an ice bath before I use them. This returns them to maximum freshness and stops them from wilting.
Adding sliced or diced raw onion to an ice bath with a pinch of salt will take the bite off the onion and sweeten it up a little before you add it to a salad.
Danielle Alvarezchef and author
Pay attention to produce
One day I was cooking at home and had two bunches of silverbeet in the fridge. One was beautiful and fresh, the other wasn’t looking amazing, so I didn’t want to combine them. Instead I cooked them side by side and the difference was remarkable.
The wilted ones were bitter and flat in flavor; texturally, they were very soft.
The really fresh bunch was sweet and vibrant and had its own natural acidity.
It’s not a surprise but it’s worth restating: the quality of ingredients matters.
I don’t want to say produce is always terrible from the supermarket and great from the market, but you should scan what’s on offer at each and how it looks.
A lot of fresh produce you can find better examples of in farmers’ markets and it’s often cheaper because it’s in season.
Jill Dupleix, Good Food Contributor
Apply the tomato trifecta
If you use canned tomatoes in a recipe, you should also use tomato passata, and if you use both canned tomatoes and tomato passata, you should also add tomato paste. You need that combination of the bulk and acidity of the canned tomato, the softer puree of the passata and the bedrock flavor of the paste.
In a tomato sugo, for example, it would be 400 grams of canned tomato, 200 grams of passata and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.
But you can apply the same idea to tomato-based bean soups such as minestrone, and anything with red capsicum such as shakshuka.
Another aha! moment: the best way to chop canned tomatoes is to plunge a clean pair of kitchen scissors into the can and do repeated chops. If you have ever tried to chase tomatoes around a pan in order to chop them, you’ll appreciate how genius this is.
Julia Busuttil Nishimuracook and author
Rethink oil and vinegar
I use extra-virgin olive oil as a seasoning, essentially using it to finish dishes in the same way I would with salt. New-season olive oil that’s fresh, peppery and grassy is so amazing and really lifts things that have been cooked for a long time, or are really rich. Something like risotto or tomato-based pasta sauces or especially soups. Even though the oil is another fat, somehow it brightens up the food.
Cold dishes such as crostini or mozzarella-based salads also work well.
I also think of red wine vinegar as a way to season hot dishes, not just salads. The Roman chicken I cook on Good Food Kitchen gets a drizzle of red wine vinegar at the end and it really brightens everything and accentuates the flavors.
When I roast carrots, I’ll add a bit of vinegar at the end, too. Cook the vinegar for just a minute and then serve.
Nelly Robinson, chef-owner, Nel.Sydney
They always tell you in classical cooking that you need to use hot milk in a bechamel, but I found very quickly that you don’t need to do that. The pot is already hot, so if you add milk that’s room temperature it makes a smooth bechamel.
Take your milk out of the fridge 30 minutes before you need it. Making bechamel this way saves you worrying about separate pots on the stove and possibly burning your milk.
Brent Savage, chef-owner, Bentley Group, Sydney
Taste early and taste often
Discovering how to taste properly put everything into perspective for me and simplified cooking on the whole. Understanding sweet, sour and salty is the basis of balance.
Balance is what comes through in any good dish, the texture or the balance between flavours.
It comes back to tasting what you’re cooking at all stages. If you taste throughout, you build that flavor and build that balance.
For the whole steamed John dory I made on Good Food Kitchen, I added a bit of acid to the fish using lemon. I introduced herbaceousness with the green garlic salsa and that was balanced with vinegar and salt. The asparagus brings texture and crunch, while turnip adds texture but also gives a little bit of spice.
That’s what I mean when I talk about a balanced dish.
Hugh Allen, chief executive, World view, melbourne
keep things sharp
Knives and salt are the two game-changers in cooking. Get your knives sharpened by a professional six to eight times a year, depending on how often you cook. And learn how to use a whetstone so you can do it yourself. There are good lessons on YouTube.
When salting your food, never use fine table salt. It’s awful. It makes everything taste metallic and a little bit can very quickly ruin a meal. Sea salt is more gentle than table salt. Murray River or Olsson’s are two Australian companies that make really good stuff.
Ross Lusted, Chef-Owner, WoodcutSydney
Discover the magic of cast-iron
I grew up with cast-iron pans in our household: they’d go on the barbecue, in the oven, onto the table. We did everything in them. Then when I was cooking in Japan, I came across the pans by a company called Oigen and fell in love all over again.
There’s a really different feeling when you cook with cast-iron. The pan is part of the process. You can start searing something in the pan, put it in the oven, take it out and it retains heat, and then you can sit it directly on the table to serve. It really is one-pot cooking.
The other day, I cut a chicken in half, put it skin side down in my cast-iron pan, turned it over, threw in shallots, garlic, celery and butter and put it in the oven. Thirty minutes later, half a chicken’s sitting on the table.
Cast iron isn’t hard to work with: just season your pan properly and treat it well and you’ll have it for life. Don’t put it in the dishwasher, don’t use too much soap and throw it back in the oven to dry it. Once a year, oil them with linseed oil.
The second season of Good Food Kitchen launches on October 11 on 9Nowwith new episodes available each Tuesday. Full recipes are available here