Let me start by stating that I am not a bad cook. My cooking skills are not bad, but they are not great either. When I cook dinner, it is edible, but not exceptional. I am just glad that it is not unforgettable for the wrong reasons.
Having made that fact clear, I have to admit that my skills at cooking are not stellar. They are not anything to feel proud of. I have tried to follow the cookbook, but it was not helpful. I also tried to practice my skill with my mom and sister as they are good cooks. I followed their instructions to the tee, but no avail. I can cook any dish and it may taste good, but something is always amiss. Sometimes, the vegetables turn mushy or the cake is crumbly or the skin of the chicken is burnt. If everything else turns out right, the dish just does not look appetizing. The complaints are accompanied by jokes more often than not. There was a time when I was tasked with cooking daily as a way to practice. However, I believe that was just an excuse to assign the chore to me.
Despite my lack of natural talent at cooking, I decided not to give up. I decided to observe and learn any nuances that are not shared. I watched cooking shows, sat through boring discussions and gossip with my aunts to pick up some tricks, attended classes etc. I was successful in making a few observations that proved useful. Here are some findings:
● My cakes were crumbly because I didn’t use enough butter. The point is, use the correct ingredients and get the measurements right. Replacing cream with butter, or butter with oil or lettuce with cabbage etc. is not always advisable. Each component has its flavour. The taste is bound to change when you replace it.
● Be mindful about the quality of the ingredients. A bad batch of potatoes can ruin your potato salad or mashed potatoes. Stale meat or vegetables can ruin the best of dishes.
● Cooking requires patience. Wait till the vegetable or meat is tender or cooked thoroughly before you proceed to the next step. In a curry, adding water before the vegetable or meat has lost its natural moisture will spoil the dish. The vegetable or meat will not absorb the flavour of the spices.
● Do not rush the dish. Give it time to cook sufficiently. Setting the stove on high won’t make the dish cook faster. It will just burn and ruin everything. Cooking at the correct heat setting is critical to the outcome.
● Pay attention to the terminology used in cookbooks. Sauteing, boiling, frying, shallow frying, simmering, grilling, roasting, double boiling etc. are all different processes and they all have different effects on the dish. Interchanging the processes could spell disaster to the dish. Just because you do not have an oven, you can’t replace baking with grilling.
● The ingredients and the procedure are crucial to the outcome but it is equally important to understand the flavours. Not all spices or flavours work well together. Some spices do not suit certain cooking styles. For example, using ingredients like oregano or olives or avocados in Indian dishes does not generally taste as good. Using dry spices while grilling might not have the same result as the spice will just end up charring the dish and the flavour will not be absorbed.
I have listed a few basic procedural pointers to be wary of. Each style of cooking has its own set of tips and tricks. I have only just scratched the surface of the vast world of cooking. I hope to master it someday and share many more tips too.