Reliable recipes and top-quality equipment will get you far, but knowing how to prep ingredients even before you start cooking can make a big difference.
1. Avoid advance prep for garlic and onions
Chopping garlic and onions causes them to release sharp odors and -flavors that intensify over time, so it’s best to cut them at the last minute. Soaking sliced or chopped onions in a solution of baking soda and water (1 tablespoon per cup of water) tames their pungency for raw applications; just be sure to rinse them thoroughly before using.
2. Out, damn sprout!
Remove any green shoots from garlic cloves before chopping. They contain bitter-tasting compounds that persist even after cooking.
3. Keep the taste in tomatoes
If excess moisture isn’t an issue, ignore any instructions to remove the seeds and “jelly” from tomatoes. The guts are where the flavor is; in fact, they contain three times the amount of flavor-enhancing glutamic acid as the flesh.
4. Score meat before marinating
To help a marinade penetrate as quickly and deeply as possible (especially in thick cuts), prick the surface of the meat with a fork or make shallow scores with a knife.
5. Flip or stir meat while marinating
Place meat in a zipper-lock bag or use a large baking dish covered with plastic wrap. Flip the bag or stir the meat halfway through the soaking time to ensure that all of the meat gets equal exposure to the marinade.
6. Trim beef stew meat thoroughly; leave a little fat on pork
Remove all hard fat and connective tissue from the exterior of beef stew meat before cooking; its intramuscular marbling will keep it plenty moist and tender during cooking. But a thin layer (1/8 inch) of fat left on pork will baste and flavor the leaner meat.
7. Keep fat fresh-tasting
Fat equals flavor. But because the fatty acids in butter, oil, and oil-rich ingredients like nuts are particularly prone to rancidity—and because these ingredients easily absorb off-flavors—it’s important to minimize their exposure to oxygen and heat.
Butter: Slip the wrapped sticks into a zipper-lock bag and store them in the back of the fridge—not in the small door compartment—where it’s coldest for up to 2 1/2 weeks. For longer storage (up to four months), move the bag to the freezer.
Oil: Keep vegetable oils in a dark pantry or cupboard. Nut and seed oils should be stored in the fridge.
Nuts: The pantry is no place for nuts, unless you plan to use them within a couple of months. Placed in a zipper-lock bag (with the air pressed out) and stored in the freezer, they’ll keep for at least a year.