10 Common Cooking Problems – Solved!
“I have leftover ingredients and flavours are not what I expected!
Potential Problem: You’re not reading the whole recipe through before cooking
Similar to mapping out a new city, if you don’t read the recipe card you’ll find yourself frazzled and scrambling. Not knowing what ingredients to add or not having them ready when they’re needed or even if you’ll have the time to cook the recipe are all common mistakes that could be easily resolved by reading through the recipe.
What to do next time: Before picking up the pan, take a minute to read through.
You don’t want to be an hour away from dinner and realize that you actually have to marinate that beef brisket for a full day! You have to know what to anticipate as you’re going through the recipe. Follow the professionals and make a habit of gathering your mise-en-place meaning you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go – including pulling out any the equipment you need. If everything is ready to go, you’ll be able to cook your dish quickly without getting flustered.
“My food is dull-looking and lacking flavour and texture!”
Potential Problem: You’re adding ingredients to a pan that hasn’t been fully heated up.
What to do next time: Always wait for the oil to heat up. The cooking surface has to be hot enough to seal in the juices and brown the food. How can you check if it’s ready? Hold your hand around 2-3 inches away from the pan. If you can feel heat radiating off the pan, you’re ready to go!
“I have soggy food”
Potential Problem: You’re overcrowding your pan.
Covering the entire surface of a pan traps heat. Since food releases moisture and creates steam, it is the culprit for making those green beans limp and prevents chicken breasts from getting that delectable caramelized crust.
What to do next time: Cook in batches.
This way, you can keep an eye on the current batch. Instead of stuffing the pan with food, make two batches to leave room for steam to escape so you’ll get that beautiful crisp crunch.
“My steak bled all over my plate!”
Potential Problem: You might not be leaving your meat to rest long enough after its cooked.
What to do next time: Have patience.
As you cook steak, the proteins within the steak start to get harder – which is why we can test the doneness of a steak by pressing and feeling it. As the proteins harden, they draw the juices to the center of the steak. Letting the meat rest allows the juices to be redistributed around the steak and be reabsorbed. When you cut it, the meat will lose less juice and be far more tender and juicy to eat!
“My pasta tastes bland!”
Potential Problem: You cooked your pasta in unsalted water
It might sound like redundant advice but the pasta is the foundation of any pasta dish – it doesn’t matter how flavourful or delicious your bolognese is if the pasta itself is bland.
What to do next time: Generously salt your water!
There’s an old wive’s tale that salting the water helps raise the temperature. However, it’s not enough to make a huge difference to the pasta. Instead, salted water adds flavour to your pasta internally as it absorbs liquid and expands. If you’re unsure of whether or not it’s salty enough, give it a try – it should taste like saltwater.
“My noodles are gummy!”
Potential Problem: You’re cooking your pasta in a pot that’s too small
What to do next time: Use a pot that’s larger than your amount of pasta and stir occasionally. The reason your pasta turns gummy if you’re using a small pot is because when you add pasta to a small amount of water, it lowers the temperature of the water significantly and will then take the water longer to return to a boil. In the meantime, the pasta sits at the bottom of the pot and starts to clump together and become mushy unless you are vigilant about stirring.
My sauce won’t stick to my noodles!
Potential Problem: You’re adding oil to the pasta after you strain it
What to do next time: Add a bit of sauce instead! Adding oil to pasta is adding another layer on top of your pasta so your sauce will not adhere to the pasta at all. Next time, to prevent clumping, add a bit of sauce to the noodles and stir in. If you’re not going to be serving the pasta for a while, rinse the noodles under cold water to remove excess starch and reheat the pasta in the sauce just as you’re about to serve it.
“I always make a mess while prepping my ingredients”
Potential Problem: Using a cutting board that’s too small
Not only will you have no room to maneuver yourself (which leads to a higher chance of cutting yourself) but your ingredients will be flying everywhere onto the floor and counter.
What to do next time: If you’re using a small knife, use a small board.
But if you’ve got a large knife, break out the larger cutting boards. However, since most recipes recommend or use a chef’s knife, a good sized versatile cutting board would be 12 inches x 15 inches. Tip – before you start chopping, place a damp cloth underneath the cutting board. This will help with any slipping and sliding of the cutting board.
“My vegetables are wilted and soggy when I sauté or stir-fry them!
Potential Problem: You’re not drying your greens before putting them on the pan
A big no-no – especially when you’re stir-frying! The extra liquid will cause steam and you’ll get braised veggies instead.
What to do next time: Dry your greens.
Turn that salad spinner and thoroughly dry your vegetables before adding them to a stir-fry. You want to maintain that crispy bite to your veggies!
“My meat is grey!”
Potential Problem: You’re flipping the meat too often and too much.
The more you squeeze, poke and prod, the more liquid you expel. All you’ll get is a wet pan and a tough, grey chop.
What to do next time: Have patience.
Leave your meat to sear. If you’re not sure whether or not it’s done, use a pair of tongs and gently lift up a corner. If it lifts up easily from the pan, then you’ll know it’s done browning. If it sticks, let it cook undisturbed until it lifts up easily from the pan.