If there’s one thing that divides good chefs from great ones, it’s knowing how to add just the right amount of flavor to your dishes. Every single dish, whether it’s a dessert or a dinner, fares better when you have everything seasoned to perfection.
The amount of impact the right amount of spice can add to a dish is hard to fully express in words. A well-seasoned steak will always wow, even if it’s not always the best cut out there. On the other hand, anyone who’s ever had a seriously bland dinner will be able to tell you that the cut of steak won’t matter much if you can barely taste anything.
The reason why well-seasoned food is so impressive is because it’s an aspect of cooking that is very difficult to get a hold of. It can take years to learn how to season a dish like a pro. Thankfully, there are some quick tips that can bring your seasoning game up a notch in record time.
After having written restaurant reviews for years and worked on my own culinary skills, I can tell you that there are definitely some tips that can help you become a better cook. Here are some that I personally swear by.
- Never underestimate salt and pepper. Did you ever wonder how the steaks at Ruth’s Chris taste so incredibly savory? What about those broiled scallops at your favorite seafood restaurant? It’s not an exotic herb or some extra fancy butter.
Surprise! In most cases, what makes your meats taste so good can be found on your dining room table: salt and pepper. Virtually any cut of meat can be improved with just a little salt and pepper. Simple can be wonderful.
- Drying, roasting, sauteeing, and serving herbs fresh all will yield different results. Cooking is a science. More specifically, it’s chemistry. In chemistry, processing stuff differently will lead to different results.
When you add heat to herbs, the chemicals inside them change. For example, with garlic, roasting it will take away the sharp spicy kick you taste when you bite into a fresh bulb. It’s good to experiment with spices in order to know what you’re getting. That said, if a recipe calls for you to roast garlic or herbs, don’t skip that step!
- Don’t use pre-ground black pepper. Pepper starts to lose its flavor once its ground up, which means that ground pepper you buy usually has only a fraction of its flavor left. If you want the full aromatic punch, you will need to grind your own.
- Fresh is best, but if you do use dried herbs, add them to your meal a little earlier. Fresh herbs have the most flavor, and are usually the ones that are easiest to cook with. It’s just the way it is. We don’t all have herb gardens, though, so it’s okay to rely on dried herbs when you can’t find the fresh stuff.
The problem with dried herbs is that they often will take extra time to work their flavors into your dishes. They need more time and moisture in order to impart flavors on your food. That’s why it’s best to add dried herbs to your food at an earlier time than you would fresh herbs.
- Sometimes, the best thing you can add to your dish is a fresh squeeze of lemon. Lemon isn’t just for seafood, you know! The acidity that lemon offers works well with just about any vegetable, not to mention most meats. A little spritz can liven up just about any dish, even pasta sauces!
- Taste your dish as you go. Cooking is a lot like drawing a nice picture. You need to be able to see your mistakes if you want to correct them. You can’t really do that without tasting your dish as it cooks. So, dip a spoon in and give it a taste!
- Don’t be afraid of the tried and tested flavor combos. Cinnamon and sugar. Basil and oregano. Herbs de provence. The reason why certain spices always seem to end up together is because they have a proven track record for success.
Using the seasoning combinations that are time-tested doesn’t make food lame; it makes it easier to create a delicious dinner everyone will love.
- Remember that you can also season food with butter, vinegar, wine, and other sauces. Salt and herbs are great, but they aren’t the only way to make your dishes taste better. Butter and oils can help bring out the juiciness of a meal. Vinegar and wine are known for increasing acidity. Heck, you can even season your food using bacon fat with lots of success.
- If you want to really season your food better, start with a standard recipe and slowly make it your own. Most recipes you’ll find online are popular because they taste good. They are also great for making a “base” for your own unique recipe. After you make a recipe once or twice, try to branch out using seasonings that you enjoy. You might be surprised at how great those recipes turn out!
Reading up on spices and their use is the best way to get better as a cook. People have been using spices for thousands of years, and during that time, they learned quite a few ways to make the most of their goods. Reading about spices will teach you to season meats with kosher salt or coarse salt rather than fine salt. It’ll teach you to use buttermilk and ras al hanout to make a good chicken marinade. It’ll also teach you how to turn rosemary into a garnish.
Not reading about how others used those herbs means you’re missing out on timeless wisdom. So, keep reading!