A good chef doesn’t just know how to cook food. They also understand the science of food and the kitchen, and their kitchen is organized and well-stocked with the right appliances. I’m sharing some of my professional kitchen tips that represent the foundation of my home kitchen.
Have a good set of knives (and know how to use them properly).
When you love to cook, it’s not difficult to end up in your friends’ kitchens. As a result, I have seen my fair share of dull and dangerous knives with equally old and dull knife sharpeners. Every kitchen needs these four knives:
The classic chef’s knife is the most important in your collection.It is the go-to tool for more than 90 percent of kitchen tasks, from chopping vegetables to slicing meat. However, it should not be used to butcher meat, carve poultry, or remove the skin of hard vegetables like pumpkin or squash. These tasks are better suited for small knives.
The serrated knife used primarily for slicing bread should NEVER be used to chop or dice. It ruins the blade. This knife is best suited for vegetables and fruits with waxy coatings such as peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, watermelons and pineapples.
The boning knife is the best blade for cutting up meat, fish or poultry. It is designed to cut along the bone, not through it. This is the knife you should be using to carve your Thanksgiving turkey.
The paring knife is often overlooked in the home kitchen due to its small size, but this is the second most important knife in your kitchen. This knife is designed for slicing and mincing small foods such as garlic, shallots, or even strawberries. It should not be used to cut hard vegetables like carrots.
BONUS TIP: Knives are designed for a right-handed world. The wrong size, weight or shape of knife used inappropriately could lead to shoulder pain or permanent nerve damage. If you’re left-handed, like me, you could benefit from buying a brand of knife that accounts for this and actually designs left-handed knives.
I never want to see a glass cutting board again!
Glass cutting boards ruin knives. I get the aesthetic and cleaning appeal, but they ruin knives, and I am #teamknivesoverbeauty. A kitchen should have a minimum of two cutting boards: one wooden and one plastic. Wooden cutting boards are best for prepping fruits and vegetables while plastic cutting boards are best for handling meat, fish and poultry. At our house, we have colour-coded cutting boards just like a commercial kitchen. Red - raw meat, blue - raw fish, yellow - raw poultry, green - fruits and vegetables, brown - cooked meat, and white - baked goods and dairy. It may seem excessive, but it goes a long way in preventing cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria.
Invest in squeeze bottles and deli containers.
Deli containers come in different sizes, are cheaper than Tupperware, and are designed specifically with fridge storage in mind. Tupperware, surprisingly, is more about aesthetics than functionality. Squeeze bottles are a great way to manage your oils, especially if you buy them in bulk. I keep a squeeze bottle of the different oils I use regularly to the right of the stove. Thank me later.
BONUS TIP: If you’re at the stage where you’re teaching little ones to find their way around the kitchen squeeze bottles are lighter and less like to cause massive spills.
Wash your fruits and vegetables in vinegar solution.
Vinegar solution increases the shelf life of your fruits and vegetables. Six cups of water and two cups of vinegar produce eight cups of solution. I soak my fruits and vegetables in this solution for up to 15 minutes. I then leave the fruit to dry on a baking rack or clean rag before refrigerating.
Brining is a gift from the gods.
This tip is especially important with grilling season (hopefully) just around the corner. Brining is the process of submerging meat in a brine solution which is simply salt dissolved in water. Brining any cut of meat makes it more tender and juicier.
Basic Brine ratio: 1 tablespoon of salt per cup of water.
You can also use brines to infuse your food with extra flavour. Are you jerking chicken anytime soon? Add whole pimento, thyme, cinnamon sticks, garlic and scotch bonnet peppers to your brining solution. You also don’t need to limit yourself to water. You can brine in milk and yogurt which can also tenderize meat.
When you go to a supermarket and see different types of salt and sizes of salt grains, it’s not a marketing scheme. There are good reasons for this, and it’s also helpful if you are controlling your salt intake. Flaked kosher salt is the salt you need! It’s simple; flaked salt covers a greater surface area, so you use less of it to season food ergo consuming less salt. Plus, if you are eating well, you don’t need to buy iodized salt. Add salt at the end. Unless you’re cooking meat or a hard grain, you don’t need to add salt until the end. Making a stew, soup, or stir-fry? Allow the flavours to cook and make sweet magic, taste, and ONLY after tasting do you salt the food. Salt is a flavour enhancer. Add it too early, and this could lead to salty food or a poorly flavoured dish.
Fun tip: Add salt to your salad before adding salad dressing but only a little. You’ll use less dressing because the salt has enhanced the dressing’s flavour.
Infused oils and compound butters are game changers!
At any given time, I have at minimum five different flavoured oils in my kitchen that I infused myself. Not only are oil infusions easy to make, but they impart a whole other world of flavour. Compound butters are also easy and are useful to have around if you are running low on an ingredient. Infused oils are great for salad dressings, and compound butters are wonderful for cooking with. You don’t need to buy expensive ones in the supermarket. Make your own!
BONUS TIP: Chili Oil is a great way to impart that chili flavour without all the heat that comes with it. For a quick infusion, add two cups of oil and a quarter cup of chili flakes into a saucepan and place on the stove at a low to medium heat. Let it sit for 5-7 minutes or until oil is just hot and the colour of the oil starts to change. Turn the stove off and leave the oil to sit for a minimum of two hours before use.
The most important lesson I have learned from working in commercial kitchens is to have respect for food, what it takes to prepare it, and the many systems in place that bring meals to your table. Each small decision made, from the knife to the ingredients, should be rooted in respect for your kitchen.