Pro-Chef Tricks That Home Cooks Can Master, According to Iron Chef Gauntlet Competitors
Hear from these elite culinary masters about the essential skills and practices all home cooks can try in their own kitchens.
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Chef Dady's Advice: Don't be afraid of heat.
I think it's understanding how hot a saute pan should be before they add their oil, and how hot the oil should be before they add their fish or their chicken or their steak so that they get a nice sear. Too many times people are afraid of splatter or splashing, so they resort to a nonstick pan, and then they can't get it hot enough and then the sugars in the meat don't caramelize. We use the adage "hot pan, hot oil." Get your pan hot first, then get your oil. Let your oil get hot and then add your fish. Then you can turn it down once you get that initial sear and the temperatures, but that's kind of an important trick to master.
Chef Sawyer's Advice: Embrace the oven.
I don't think home cooks use the oven enough. Especially when my children were younger and at I-could-burn-my-forehead-on-the-stove level, I used the oven more and more at home, because I just wanted to be able to not worry about the kids and be with them. And then what you realize being in the restaurant is we can use the oven as a grill, as a broiler, as a braiser, as a searer. All these techniques that you can do on a stovetop or in a Crock-Pot, you can do in the oven; you just have to do it. Rather than searing your meat because you don't like your stove to be dirty, use the broiler. Heat it up to super high, put it in there. Oh, I don't have a Crock-Pot? I can't make this overnight casserole? No, it's just an oven; set it at 200 degrees F, see ya tomorrow morning. But our oven runs more common than anything else in our house. I think they only think of the oven as roast or baking a pastry. They never think of it as, "I'm making a big torta omelet [and] it'll take forever on the stove, but it'll be done [in the oven]." Heat is applied in the oven as well.
Chef Gulotta's Advice: Turn herbs into herb oils.
Everyone should grow herbs, and if you do and if your herbs are overgrown, one of the big tricks we always do if we have way too many herbs is we'll just puree them with some kind of flavored oil and aromatics like ginger and garlic. And then we'll just freeze them in little containers, and then we always have these really bright, super-awesome herb purees for finishing dishes.
Chef Arrington's Advice: Pre-preparation is key.
The most-important thing is pre-preparation. I think [cooking] becomes a chore and not fun if you're cooking, prepping, trying to find space, trying to entertain, trying to do whatever you're doing on the side, and cook and make delicious food if that's not what you do every single day. I think a lot of time, pre-preparation — maybe you dice up your carrots or your celery the day before or you marinated your meat the day before. That's an easy way, just pre-planning.
Chef Nakajima's Advice: Resist the urge to taste too often.
Taste less than three times. Don't ever taste more than three times. That's a golden rule of mine. You should try to taste with your eyes, obviously, when you're putting everything in. That's just experience. And then you do your first adjustment, and then you put in a second to do the final and then the third — ideally you don't want to do it, but if you have to do it more than three times, I don't care how talented you are, your palate's tired. You don't know what you're tasting anymore.
Chef Grueneberg's Advice: Slice, don't mince, garlic.
I don't like to mince garlic. I think it gets too strong, and I think chopping garlic really fine, it bruises it and makes it really strong. ... I like to just take the garlic clove and slice it thin on the mandoline and hold it in olive oil. To me that's the best trick. If you can do a whole head of garlic, put it in olive oil and put it in your fridge, it's going to last so much longer and way better than that nasty jar of garlic stuff. And in my opinion, don't be scared to toast your garlic. There's so many cooking shows that say “Don't burn your garlic,” which is a very French thing to say. But Italian grandmothers, they're going for it. If it's a little golden brown on there, it's OK. It'll elevate your food in a way that you don't just taste all garlic.
Chef Izard's Advice: Get the pan screaming hot.
I hear everybody say that what home cooks often don't like to do is just get their pan to the right temperature. People are scared that they're getting their pan too hot. But if you're ... [asking], "How did you do that to your scallops?" You have to get a hot pan first.