You may have been cooking for a while, and are less than satisfied with your results. This is most likely because of at least one of these reasons:
- You do not follow recipes.
- You do not follow good recipes.
- You have ingredients that are less than ideal in quality.
I remember when I did not follow recipes--I didn’t understand that the one ingredient I left out, or thought would be a good idea to double, could completely dismantle the dish, or allow it to fail to be what would have been a near perfect.
Following good recipes is very important because, if you pay attention, they will teach you how to not just be a good cook, but how to be a great cook. They will teach you the most vital lessons: (1) cooking techniques and (2) ingredient/flavor combinations that work. And, with these skills, eventually you can make up your own successful recipes.
In order to learn cooking techniques and which ingredients work together, the key is this: pay attention as you cook. You may not even need to cook/practice more, but you do need to change how you cook. You must observe the food closely. Ask questions like these:
- What are the characteristics of this ingredient? Is it sweet, sour, salty,… or does it taste like licorice, or is it peppery? What is the texture like in relation to the other ingredients in the dish?
- If you have had this ingredient before, what foods was it paired with? What did you like or dislike about the dish? How was the ingredient cooked in that recipe? For example, was it raw, roasted, or steamed?
Asking these types of questions is a form of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice means you approach your task with intention and are eager to understand, get better, and evaluate your outcomes in order to improve. Deliberate practice simply means that you are learning in ways that actually help you get better, and not in ways that are automatic and may lead to misconceptions or only minimal improvement.
Beginning to learn a new skill is the phase of learning that I, and many others, find the most challenging. But, many of us spend time cooking anyway, so we might as well get better, because this means it is more fun and more exciting to be in the kitchen.
I recommend reading this article (coming soon!) to improve your skills:
The Keys to Good Cooking