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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

5 Reasons your food doesn’t taste as good as what you get at a restaurant…

Every ambitious cook has done it.  Experienced a dish in a restaurant and thought “I can do that.”  After consulting countless recipes on the internet, you give your favorite dish a go in your own kitchen.  You follow the recipe to the letter and when you taste it, it just isn’t the same.  Here are some things that could have gone wrong:

5.  You don’t have access to the same ingredients as the restaurant.  Restaurants are able to purchase their food from high end food suppliers for a wholesale price.  Better restaurants (not your favorite chain) generally hand pick everything from their burger bun to their butter (important ingredients to any chef) in order to craft the tastes and flavors they want.  These small changes can affect the end result of your dish.

4.  You substitute hard to find ingredients for more common ones, and you exclude ingredients you don’t like.  I admit to occasional substitution.  It’s a lot easier to substitute American bacon for pancetta when you know you won’t use the latter for more than one dish in a week.  Not to mention the price!  But it definitely changes the flavor.  Think substituting Swiss cheese from the deli for gruyère won’t make a noticeable difference??  Think again.  If you really want your recipe to taste the same, be sure you prepare the recipe as written with the ingredients listed.

My mother excludes ingredients all the time and wonders why my sauces regularly turn out more flavorful than hers.  I use onions in my cooking and momma does not.  She doesn’t like raw onions.  This is a trait I have inherited from her and amazingly, my husband shares.  There’s something about the bite of an onion that just doesn’t suit our palates.  But onions are the base of tons of recipes, and without this layer of flavor your recipes simply won’t have the depth and structure they should.  And once you cook them in a dish, the onion flavor is generally just an ensemble member of a beautiful, harmonic chorus.  So even if you vehemently dislike an ingredient in your recipe, try adding half or a quarter of the recipe amount to give your dish the flavor it requires.

3.  You don’t add enough fat.  I promise you, the chef at your favorite restaurant isn’t worried about your waistline.  He/she wants you to like his culinary creation.  This means doing what it takes to maximize the flavor of the dish, and generally this means adding butter, bacon grease, duck fat, oil or any assortment of fat.  Not afraid of the fat?   Try adding a little butter, straight from the refrigerator, to your burgers.  Pinch ¼ cup of butter into a bowl with 1 pound of ground beef (or better yet, lamb) and gently mix together with salt and pepper.  Form into patties and cook in a skillet over medium high heat 4-7 minutes (to your liking), flip and place your favorite cheese on browned side, cover with lid and cook 4-7 more minutes.  Serve with some good bakery buns and enjoy some of the best burgers you’ve made at home!!

2.  Plating, experience, and service.  Most of us don’t go to the trouble to plate our dishes in the creative and attractive way of our favorite restaurants.  We don’t cultivate parsley for the mere purpose of decorating our dinner plates!  But the truth is we use all our senses when we eat; seeing the attractive food, smelling the delicious aromas, feeling the texture of the bite in your mouth, hearing the crunch.  When your plate is as pleasing to look at as it is to taste, our brains just seem to enjoy the food that much more.

Part of the experience of enjoying a meal away from home is the ambience that comes with a restaurant experience:  the table layout, the intimate lighting and décor, the variation of dishes.  Just getting away from your four walls can titillate your taste buds!  Don’t think I’m right?  Pack a picnic basket with a crusty baguette, extra sharp cheddar, a sliced apple, figs, salami, and a bottle of Malbec (or your favorite lunch) and take it somewhere picturesque and quiet.  Bring one of your favorite people and tell me if your change of scenery doesn’t make for a memorable and delicious lunch!

And let’s be honest…  It’s always better when someone else slaves away at the stovetop, when someone delivers your piping hot dish to your table, and, most of all, it’s better when you don’t have to do the dishes following your feast!

1.  You don’t season your food enough!!  I know, sounds ridiculous.  But from what I hear, it’s true!  Apparently the home cook is intimidated; nay terrified to properly salt and pepper his/her food.  Yes, over-salting food can be really horrific.  There’s little you can do to fix a dish when you’ve slipped and dropped the open Morton’s canister into your skillet as it simmers on the stove.  Not to mention the bad rap salt gets from doctors.  But if you’re eating less processed food and not hitting the drive through every day you probably don’t need to worry about health problems from over-salting.  When I cook I generously sprinkle kosher salt throughout the dish, especially both sides of meat.  If you put this much salt on cooked meat, it would overwhelm the cut.  But generously salting food prior to cooking will just “step it up a notch,” if you will.  Watch any celebrity chef and they will not shy away from the salt!

Now we need to have a serious discussion about pepper.  It is imperative that you ONLY COOK WITH FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER!!!  This is something I feel very, very strongly about.  The pre-ground black pepper is pale in flavor comparison with freshly ground.  You will get a richer, deeper flavor from the freshly ground stuff.  I only have a pepper shaker because it came with the salt shaker (which is rarely needed because I properly salted my food before cooking, thank you).  So next time you cook, add a little more salt than you thought necessary, and break out your new pepper mill.  Your taste buds will thank you!!!

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