15 Essential Cooking Lessons from Michael Symon That Every Home Cook Should Know

The esteemed Iron Chef shares must-know secrets, tips and hacks for making bold, flavorful dishes in your own Kitchen Stadium.

It's time to forget the filet.

Though pricey, filet mignon is extremely overrated, according to Michael, who considers it one of the worst cuts of beef available. "It has no fat; it has no texture," he says. Instead, he prefers cuts with more marbling, as that's where the fat and flavor come from.

Marinate meat for a few hours or overnight.

"It allows the flavors to permeate the meat and it allows the meat to kind of break down, have more texture, and then the cell structure of the meat [opens] up so it can take on flavor."

It's OK to marinate meat with salt well in advance.

Contrary to what Michael calls "an old wives' tale," salting the meat the night before you cook it is a good thing and something you should do. "It actually opens the cell structure of the meat up," he says, "makes the meat juicier when you eat it, makes it more tender, makes it more flavorful."

Salt is simply essential.

According to Michael, salting while you cook is the only way to guarantee your food will have flavor. 

Don't be afraid of salt if you cook from scratch.

"If you cook from scratch, which is what we all preach you should do, you are instantly lowering your sodium, and you can season your food so it actually tastes good."

Be sure to season boiling water.

When cooking grains like farro and pasta, it's important to flavor the water so the finished product picks up that taste. "This doesn't have any seasoning in it yet, so you have to season it," Michael says of farro.

When shopping for a grill, consider charcoal.

"Most gas grills don't get hot enough to give you that great caramelization that you really need," Michael says. "I like a live-fire grill, or I cook inside." 

A high-temperature oven will caramelize food nicely.

When preparing a salad with farro and carrots, Michael simply chopped organic carrots and roasted them in a 500 degree F oven to guarantee deep caramelization (aka flavor).

After placing meat on the grill, leave it be for a bit.

"You want the meat to caramelize, and the way that that happens is you wait," Michael says.

Wait to flip until the meat tells you it's ready.

You'll know it's ready to be flipped when it gently releases itself from the grill. "If you pull it and it sticks, Michael advises, "it's begging you to not flip it."

Don't forget to take advantage of citrus zest.

"There's typically more flavor on the exterior of citrus than there is in the interior. So if you're using them, use both," notes Michael of citrus zest and juice. But he adds that the citrus pith is bitter, so don't go so far as to zest the white layer below the peel.

You can use your tongs as a citrus juicer.

Instead of buying a potentially pricey tool that is dedicated to juicing citrus, simply place a half of the citrus between the handles of the tongs, and squeeze them together to ream the juice.

Soft herbs bruise easily, so be gentle.

There's no need to furiously chop herbs into oblivion; simply tear them with your hands instead. If you want to chop, make only "one pass with your knife," Michael says, so as to not damage the herbs and release too much of their flavorful oils onto your cutting board.

Remember the basic ratio to make any vinaigrette.

According to Michael, it comes down to mixing up "one part acid, two parts fat."

The order of operations in the kitchen: cook, taste, serve.

"The most-important thing to do before you serve is you taste," Michael says, "'cause you want to make sure that your guests are happy."

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