Right after graduating from college I was truly on my own for the first time, and started to cook a lot. Sure, I had cooked at home and in school a bit, but post-college I had a very, very limited budget and my first apartment kitchen, so I made it my classroom.
My first job paid less than $20,000 a year, and I was living in a major metropolitan (read: expensive) city. In other words, I needed to cook on the cheap. I cooked lots of pasta and inexpensive chicken dishes, and quickly learned that when cooking, the little details make a big difference.
For instance, I have a vivid memory of the first stir-fry I tried to cook on my own. The chicken I had bought was still in the freezer, and I was hungry, so instead of properly thawing it so it could be easily prepared for the stir-fry, I took a short cut. I thawed the chicken a bit in the microwave and then cut the chicken into big chunks (hey, it’s hard to cut a partially thawed piece of chicken!) and proceeded with the recipe.
The resulting stir-fry was full of chewy, rubbery chicken that had been overcooked and was really unappealing. But being frugal, I ate the dish as I thought to myself, “there must be a trick to making good stir-fries at home.”
In reality, there is no “trick” to a good stir-fry, it just requires that your ingredients are prepared properly, and really, any recipe is the same way. Once I realized that if you fully thaw your chicken in order to slice it into narrow strips, the chicken is able to cook quickly and better absorb the yummy sauce or liquid that is a part of stir-fry.
Even as an adult, I will cook something for my family and be disappointed with the resulting dish. But then if I do a little research or thinking, without changing the ingredients, but merely changing the technique in preparing it, I can make a dish go from “ho hum” to “make again!” in little to no effort at all.
So my tip for today is to remember the details in cooking your food. I’ll share a more recent “for instance” tomorrow.