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Cooking Tips for Improving Flavor

By Cook's Illustrated Published September 2011

Reliable recipes and top-quality equipment will get you far, but knowing how to get the most from your cooking can make a big difference.

1. Strike—but not until the pan is hot
The temperature of the cooking surface will drop the minute food is added, slowing down flavorful browning, so don’t rush the preheating step. If shallow- or deep-frying, check the temperature of the oil with an instant-read thermometer.

2. Sprinkle a little sugar on top

Lightly sprinkling lean proteins (and even vegetables) with sugar helps them brown better and faster, enhancing their flavor without the risk of overcooking.

3. Add a rind to soups and stews

Save your Parmesan rinds and do as the Italians do: Toss one into a soup or stew. It’s an age-old trick for adding savory depth. Stored in a zipper-lock bag in the freezer, the rinds will keep indefinitely (no need to thaw them before using).

4. Don’t forget the fond

The caramelized brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan after searing meat are packed with savory flavor. To incorporate them into a soup, stew, or pan sauce, deglaze the hot pan with liquid (wine, broth, etc.) and scrape them free with a wooden spoon.

5. Capitalize on meat’s juices

As cooked meat rests, it releases flavorful juices that can be added back to the skillet when making a pan sauce. If the juices are plentiful enough to thin the sauce, allow it to simmer an additional minute or two to restore its proper consistency.

6. Make nuts nuttier

Toasting nuts brings out their aromatic oils, contributing to a stronger, more complex flavor and aroma. When using more than 1 cup, oven-toast nuts on a roomy sheet pan. The oven offers not only more space than a skillet but also more even heat than the stove, with less need for stirring. 

7. Spice up spices

To intensify the flavor of commercially ground spices—particularly blends such as chili powder and curry powder—cook them for a minute or two in a little butter or oil before adding liquid to the pan. If the recipe calls for sautéing aromatics, add the spices to the pan when the vegetables are nearly cooked.