11 Must-Steal Cooking Secrets from Our Test Kitchen

Our recipe developers spill the wealth of delicious tricks, shortcuts and smart moves they’ve amassed over the years.
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Photo By: Leigh Anne Meeks ©2014 Leigh Anne Meeks

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Trust Us, We’re Experts

Just a handful of full-time recipe developers create nearly 1,000 new recipes for Food Network Magazine and FoodNetwork.com each year. That’s a whole lot of cooking and eating, so it’s always our goal to be efficient, clever and creative in the kitchen. You’ll find that style and attitude come through in our recipes, but there are some super-helpful tricks we think you should keep in your back pocket at all times. Since shouting them from rooftops seems futile, we’ve laid them all out here.

Befriend Your Broiler

Think of your broiler as a booster. For instance, roast veggies (like potatoes, broccoli or cauliflower) faster by tossing them in oil and seasonings, spreading them in a single layer on a broiler pan, and starting by broiling until they begin to sizzle and brown in spots. Then switch the oven to bake and they'll be cooked through in no time. You can also cook thin pieces of meat, like chicken cutlets or pork chops, fully and quickly under the broiler. Just keep an eye out for hot spots and rotate the food as needed.

Condiments Can Save a Meal

All FN developers keep an arsenal of interesting condiments in their own fridges. A little splash of hot sauce can completely transform an otherwise plain piece of chicken or simple batch of veggie soup. Don’t be afraid to get creative with some of our favorites: harissa, kimchi, whole-grain mustard, garlic-chili sauce and fermented black bean sauce.

Embrace 2-for-1 Ingredients

Some foods can pull double duty because you can use their different parts as separate ingredients. Citrus is a rock star at this — especially lemon. The juice is acidic, which makes it great in vinaigrettes and marinades. The zest adds pop to cakes and muffins. And when you combine the two, you’re in for the ultimate lemony punch. Consider celery the same way: The crunchy stalks add crunch to mayonnaise-based salads, and the tender leaves are awesome in a green salad.

Sometimes, You Can Skimp on Protein

Cured and smoked meats like bacon, pancetta and dried salami have concentrated flavors, so even small quantities impart the impression of a rich, meaty meal. For instance, as little as 2 ounces of bacon in a single pasta dish can cleverly satisfy four people. Just cut the meat into small pieces so there’s a bit in every bite.

Speed-Brining Boosts Flavor

Soaking meat in a simple mix of vinegar, water and sugar for even a few minutes will completely change it — for the better. This is true especially for pork chops, which can be a little tough and flavorless. To get started, follow our method in our Pork Chops with Bean Salad.

Garnishes Transform Slow-Cooker Recipes

We've made everything from rich lasagnas to delicate cakes in a slow cooker. The biggest lesson we've learned is that seasoning and garnishes applied at the end of cooking will make or break a dish. Try adding a handful of fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to truly brighten things up.

Save the Liquid from a Jar of Pickles

Sweet and salty pickling brine is great for more than just preserving the baby dills or spicy jalapenos you’ve all but abandoned in the back of your fridge. That flavorful liquid can amplify the acidity in marinades or vinaigrettes, and it's surprisingly good drizzled over crispy roasted potatoes. Of course, we’re not opposed to enjoying it in a martini either.

Cook Grains Like Pasta

We love whole grains like brown rice and farro, but we don't always have the 40 minutes (or more) to wait for them to cook. You can shave off a considerable amount of time by bringing a small pot of water to a boil and boiling your grains, just as you would pasta. Just taste them often to check for doneness until you’re comfortable with the technique.

Tomato Paste Is a Kitchen Hero

It’s super-concentrated and packed with umami, which makes it essential for building flavor in dishes like chili and stews. And when you don’t have canned tomatoes on hand, you can use tomato paste to make a delicious tomato sauce like we did in our Garlic-Tomato Pasta with Peas.

Think Beyond Breadcrumbs

Just about any crunchy carbohydrate can be turned into a coating for meat. Crush up pretzels, cereal or chips the next time you’re frying up a batch of chicken or shallow-frying pork medallions. For instance, in our Oven-Fried Chicken with Green Beans, crushed cornflakes star as the satisfying crispy element.

Upgrade Whipped Cream

Add a few tablespoons of sour cream to heavy cream before whipping, or gently stir it into prepared whipped cream. The result is a surprisingly rich and tangy topping that is completely addictive and will elevate any dessert. We even love adding a dollop to coffee!

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