- Insider asked professional chefs and bakers for their best tips for at-home cooking and baking.
- Swap water for vodka in your pie dough for a flakier crust, but make sure not to add the liquid all at once.
- The temperature controls on your oven may not be accurate, so chefs recommend getting a thermometer.
- Broiling meat at the end of the cooking process can give it a better colour.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Whether you’re a first-time cook or just looking to take your kitchen skills to the next level, there’s always more to learn about preparing delicious meals â€” especially around the holidays.
With everyone spending more time at home, Insider spoke with professional chefs and bakers to find out how people can improve their skills in the kitchen.
Stay away from novelty measuring cups
Phil Kastel, executive chef at The Milky Way restaurant in LA, told Insider that he doesn’t recommend using novelty measuring cups in the kitchen because they aren’t always precise.
“Although they’re cute and may look nice on your shelf, they tend not to be as accurate as standard measuring cups you find in cooking supply stores or in test kitchens, where recipes are actually written,” he said.
Try the mise-en-place technique to make cooking less stressful
If you’re someone who often forgets to add ingredients or hates the mess of making an elaborate meal, mise en place could help.
Mise en place is the practice of preparing ingredients before starting the actual cooking process. It can reduce kitchen clutter and help you stick to cooking times more precisely.
“I always recommend taking the extra time to thoroughly read the recipe and measuring out all your ingredients into separate bowls beforehand,” Kastel told Insider. “This is the best way to avoid silly mistakes.”
Invest in an oven thermometer
Kastel told Insider that an oven thermometer is one of his must-have kitchen tools.
“You probably have temperature controls on your oven at home, but most ovens are typically off by a few degrees and actually need to be recalibrated from time to time,” he said.
Having an oven thermometer is a great way to check if it’s really at the temperature indicated in a recipe.
Practice your knife skills before starting to prepare a big meal
“Knife skills can improve the quality and presentation of any dish, as well-chopped ingredients cook more evenly,” he said.
When it comes to chopping like a pro, practice makes perfect. Use a sharp knife on a flat, sturdy work surface and keep your ingredients toward the back of the knife for the smoothest chopping action.
Learn how to break down a chicken before you move on to a turkey
Before tackling larger poultry, Shepherd recommended learning how to properly break down a chicken.
“If you can master breaking down and roasting a chicken, you can successfully roast a turkey,” he told Insider.
The basic process of preparing a chicken involves removing the wishbone and legs, trimming the wing tips, breaking and removing the back, and splitting the breastbone.
Broil meat after roasting or baking to add colour
Take advantage of the broiler to quickly brown meat and vegetables in the oven.
“One of my favourite tricks is to switch from baking to broiling to finish off a dish in the oven and give meat a bit of colour,” Shepherd said.
Broiling is a method of oven cooking that involves high, direct heat and can produce effects similar to grilling.
When baking pastry, keep fats like butter or shortening very cold
Teresa Shurilla, pastry chef and program director at University of Hawai’i Maui College Culinary Arts program, told Insider that temperature is key when baking with fats.
“Whether you’re using butter, solid vegetable shortening, or lard, you should keep the fat very cold,” she said. “It’s the bits of cold fat flecked through the dough that make it flaky.”
Shurilla added that the best way to incorporate fat into flour is by rubbing it in with your hands rather than mixing it with a spoon or whisk.
When making pastry dough, never add all of the water at once
If you’re baking something that involves dough, pay attention to the consistency of it as you add water or other liquids.
“Never add the entire quantity of water called for in a recipe at once,” Shurilla told Insider. “Add it gradually and stop as soon as the dough holds together.”
Also be careful not to overmix your ingredients. For example, dough with wheat flour can become tough and leathery when it’s mixed too much.
In pie dough, substitute vodka instead of water for a flakier crust
“Pie dough only contains one wet ingredient and it’s usually water, but vodka is actually a good substitute,” Shurilla said.
Unlike water, alcohol doesn’t stimulate the formation of gluten bonds in mixed or kneaded flour. Fewer gluten bonds mean the finished pie crust is more likely to be flaky than rubbery.
Always chill your dough before rolling it out
For the best texture and flavour, don’t roll your pastry dough out immediately after mixing it.
“You should always chill your dough before rolling,” Shurilla told Insider. “This ensures that any fat that has warmed up gets cold again.”
This tip also applies to cookie dough. After rolling or cutting the dough into portions, pop the loaded baking sheet into the refrigerator for 30 minutes before baking.
Don’t add too much flour when rolling or kneading dough
Be careful when using flour to keep your pastry crust or bread dough from sticking to your work surface.
“Don’t put too much flour on your rolling or kneading surface,” Shurilla said. “The additional flour will make your dough tough.”
Using a nonstick silicone mat can help you avoid overloading your dough with extra flour.
You can often bake your pie for longer than the recipe says
“If needed, tent your pie with foil and bake it a little longer than the recipe states,” she said. “You want a sturdy pie.”
Bloom noted that a pie crust shouldn’t be translucent when you take it out of the oven.
Use an egg wash to avoid soggy pie bottoms
A pie can develop a soggy bottom when the liquid in its filling seeps into the crust, making it spongy or soggy. Soggy bottoms can also strike if there is too much fat in the pie crust itself.
Bloom told Insider that you can use an egg to reduce the odds of this happening.
“To help prevent soggy-bottom pies, brush the bottom of the dough with egg wash,” she said. “This will give your dough a bit of a seal when baking.”
To make an egg wash, whisk a single egg with a tablespoon of milk or water.
Let your pie cool before cutting for cleaner slices
If you want that picture-perfect pie slice, Bloom said, don’t slice your pie right out of the oven.
“For the best-looking pie slice, you need to let your pie cool completely before slicing,” she told Insider. “Some thickeners, like tapioca starch, will only set completely when cool.”
Place your finished pie on an elevated wire rack or in a cool room to speed up the cooling process.
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