The COVID-19 lockdowns were a good time to teach yourself how to cook, but now that the pandemic appears to be winding down a bit, things are beginning to return to normal. Don’t lose the cooking progress you made while you were at home! You may not need that sourdough starter anymore, but the lessons you learned throughout can help you to become a better home cook in the long run. You may not become a world-renowned chef, but you can make meals that wow your friends and family and have fun in the kitchen while doing it! The trick is to continue learning and to continue growing in your abilities. To help you out, we’re looking at a few tips and techniques you should try out in the kitchen!
Season Your Meat in Advance
When it comes to cooking meat, we’ve hinted at several ways you can help yourself create the perfect main course. While there is a lot you can do in the actual cooking of the meat, a real difference-maker that often gets overlooked is everything leading up to cooking the dish. Chief among these is seasoning in advance. There’s a bit of a debate among chefs and food lovers, but generally, it helps to season the meat prior to cooking because the flavor is distributed more evenly throughout. If you season the meat right before cooking, you’ll generally only taste it on the outside. Salting immediately before cooking can also prevent the Maillard reaction by bringing moisture to the surface of meat.
There are plenty of ways you can season the meat ahead of time. You can keep it simple with just salt or using other dry herbs and spices. This method is called dry brining and is similar to brining, but without the liquid. Of course, you can do a wet brine, which is often one tablespoon of salt to every cup of water. You can also try a marinade, which is an excellent way to impart complex flavors in your main course with a little preplanning.
You also need to take the type of meat into account when deciding how long to season it. Seafood and fish can be seasoned ahead of time, but try to minimize it, since the meat is often tender and delicate. Steak, chicken, and more robust meats can be seasoned up to a day before, sometimes more depending on the thickness and size of the protein. (Think about how people brine Thanksgiving turkeys for multiple days!)
Making a Homemade Stock or Broth
One of the early lessons many chefs take on in their education is how to make a stock or broth. Both can be used for a variety of fundamental cooking techniques from soups to sauces. And the value of a homemade stock or broth is tough to overstate. You usually can taste the difference. Stock is also an efficient way to get as much out of your cooking and scraps, ultimately cutting down on waste.
So, how do we make a stock or broth? To understand that, we must first know the difference between the two. Stock is made by simmering bones to release flavor and gelatin to create a thicker liquid that can be used to give a texture and light flavor to dishes. Broths, on the other hand, are made by essentially cooking meat or vegetables in a liquid, which is why broths are usually thinner than stocks. A common way to make a broth is to season a stock and cook additional meat or vegetables in it.
A chicken stock is one of the basic broths and one that is among the easiest to make. Let’s say you’ve made a roast chicken and picked the carcass clean for leftovers. Now you’re left with bones with little bits of meat still on them. Grab some of your unused fresh spices and vegetables and simmer them with the carcass in a stock pot for a few hours. Once you strain the bones, vegetables, and herbs out, you’ll be left with a useful chicken stock that can be stored in the fridge for around two to four days or frozen for up to three months. If you want some specifics, we’ll share the recipe below.
Whether you’re seasoning meat or making a stock with the leftovers afterward or following some of our other tips, what’s important is that you’re trying new things. By exploring what you’re capable of in the kitchen, you’ll learn valuable lessons about what to do and what not to do that you can pull out in a pinch to make the perfect meal when it’s called for!
Simple Chicken Stock Recipe
- 1 chicken carcass
- 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into ½-inch to 1-inch pieces
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped into ½-inch to 1-inch pieces
- 1 large onion quartered
- ½ cup of fresh parsley
- ½ cup of fresh thyme
- ¼ cup of fresh sage
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 4-6 quarts of water
- Place the chicken, vegetables, and herbs in a large stockpot.
- Pour the water over the ingredients until they’re all covered (you may need more water than listed).
- Bring the water to a boil before lowering the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Simmer uncovered for 6 to 8 hours, checking every 15 to 30 minutes for the first 3 hours and skim as needed.
- If the water level ever goes below the carcass and vegetables, add additional hot water to keep them submerged.
- Strain the broth into a large heat-proof container and refrigerate overnight, discarding the carcass, vegetables, and herbs.
- The next day, remove any fat solids and store in the fridge for 2 to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.