What we don’t do, but should

I’ve been thinking lately about the things that separate the home cook from the pro. Things like dry-aging steaks for a few days before cooking. Developing a relationship with your purveyors. Patting meat dry before pan-frying. That kind of thing. What tips would you share?

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Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

7 thoughts

  1. The source of heat that a pro cooks with-high BTU burners, convection oven,salamander, infrared broiler, wood fired oven

    I love that the Firefly grill in Effingham, Il has no microwave.

    The pro has an approach to a resource with use of all of it. No waste.

  2. Let that meat rest for 20 minutes before carving it!

    Canola oil for cooking, olive oil for salads!

    Buy a steel for your knives and learn how to use it!

  3. Speed. I’ve been watching Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home videos. Julia Child couldn’t keep up with Jacques Pepin when it came to chopping things into little bits, even in her prime, as she admits without shame.

    Precision. The dice-cut vegetables are as uniform as, well, dice.

  4. Never been a pro, so I’m shooting in the dark here, but:

    Learning to use/re-use what’s available? I think good kitchens know how to repurpose unused items, or make extras from leftovers. For example, turning bones into stock, using fat trimmings in a new dish, and so on. This isn’t new to good home cooks, but my impression is that good restaurants really work at minimizing waste in this way. The resulting creativity and frugality is very useful.

    Building on Frank’s comment, efficiency. I know I’m not as efficient as I could be in planning how to approach a particular meal, and I suspect good chefs could teach us a few things about judging timing, juggling tasks, and so on.

    Understanding subtleties of different ingredients, like Mike’s distinction of canola vs. olive oil. This might go as far as different grades of spices (we’re experimenting with five different kinds of cinnamon), different crystal size of salt (big difference in effective taste there) different kinds of vinegar, etc. That last is one that’s really important to me in Filipino cooking, as I have several types of vinegar I use depending on what effect I’m going for.

  5. Good thoughts all around. I need to give canola a shot sometime, since I’ve been cooking almost exclusively with olive oil (Saifan is my preferred brand) and go through it by the gallon.

    Another thing I’ve been thinking about was echoed by a chef in St. Louis. He said “Biggest difference [between the pro and the amateur] is where I buy from. With farmer’s markets, the gap is shrinking.”

    Most home cooks don’t build a relationship with producers. Restauranteurs have no choice but to. That’s got to be an advantage. But with the degrees of separation between consumer and farmer/producer dwindling, that relationship is more feasible to the Average Joe than it has been in at least a half-century.

    I also like the suggestions regarding using the whole animal. Home cooks too often rely on chicken breasts, when we all know the real goods are in the whole roasted version, the stock made from the carcass and the pan sauce or pate from the giblets.

  6. When you mention Jacques Pepin, he was a chef, so in his programs, he always demonstrates that type of perspective. He may not have a whole pig but shows what to do with a loin, especially in the older shows. When I think of him I think of sharp knives and great knife skills.

    Another thing the pros do is stay seasonal. No tasteless tomatoes.

  7. Let the pan get hot before you put what ever you are going to put in it…in it.

    When I get home from the market, I unwrap the meat I purchased and immediately salt it. If it is beef that I am going to cook in the next few days I leave it uncovered. If it is just about anything else, I wrap it, and the salt will give me a few days latitude in terms of when I cook it.

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