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You forgot you left the heat on high, and you walked away from the stove for a minute only to return to find a scorched and blackened piece of chicken. It happens — some of the best and most accomplished chefs can get distracted and slip up, but there might be some slipups that you’re making, and they’re not, that you don’t even realize.
Mistakes like burning, scorching, or boiling-over are all visible to the naked eye; when these things happen you know it, and then you know to start over. But we’re here to tell you about things that you don’t know you're doing, most specifically, common mistakes that you may be making in the kitchen that those talented chefs we mentioned earlier are not. Things like not seasoning pasta water, or waiting for your meat to rest, and even mishandling egg whites are mistakes that could be detrimental to your cooking, and just because you don’t see it as a mistake, doesn’t mean it’s not bad.
To help you get up to speed on what you could be doing wrong in the kitchen, we asked cooking expert Erika Monroe-Williams what she thought were frequent mistakes home cooks make, and how to fix them. As "The Hopeless Housewife" and a contestant on ABC’s The Taste, Monroe-Williams has spent plenty of time in the kitchen, and plenty of time helping others fix their cooking woes.
These mistakes are really easy to fix, and some you may have even heard of before but just haven’t put into practice yet. Know this, though: these are mistakes, and when you’re making them, you’re not being the best that you can be in the kitchen.
Not Letting Your Meat Rest After Cooking
"Allowing your meat to rest for that much-needed cooling-off time allows the juices to be distributed more evenly and not run out onto the cutting board [like they would] if you were to cut into it immediately," says Monroe-Williams. "Let steaks and chicken rest for at least five minutes, and whole roasts and birds could rest 20 to 30 minutes. Cover meat with foil while it's resting."
Not Seasoning Your Meat and Poultry Immediately Before Cooking
For a nice sear and flavorful meat, season your protein immediately before cooking. "Seasoning too early will draw [all of the] moisture to the surface and it will be hard[er] to get [a] great sear, and seasoning after cooking is just plain [wrong]," says Monroe-Williams.
Not Seasoning the Pasta Water
You may think all of the seasoning is in the sauce, but by seasoning your pasta water with an ample amount of salt, you’re adding a ton of flavor to your pasta. To skip this step would be a tragedy in the name of all things pasta.
Boiling When You’re Supposed to Be Simmering
"I am as impatient as it gets in the kitchen when I am in a hurry, but rushing some things could cost you a trip to the store [because you’ll have to start over]. If something should simmer for 45 minutes, it's not going to cook the same if you turn up the heat and try to speed things up by boiling for 15 minutes," says Monroe-Williams. Simmering allows flavors to develop, and by boiling instead, your results could be dry, tough, or flavorless.
Mishandling Egg Whites
Egg whites play a special role in a recipe, and not handling them correctly can cause your dish to flop and lack that lift that egg whites give. Always let your eggs come to room temperature before separating. If the recipe says to beat them until stiff peaks form, make sure to stop there, because over-beating will result in dry egg whites.
Using Butter That's Too Soft
A lot of baking recipes call for softened butter, but letting your butter soften too much will cause a huge mess. "Overly softened butter makes your baked goods spread out into all kinds of strange, unwanted shapes," says Monroe-Williams. "When a recipe calls for softened butter, it doesn't mean nearly melted butter. It should still hold its form and push back a little bit when pushed with a finger. If you're in a hurry, don't use the microwave; just cut the butter into chunks and let it sit on the cutting board or countertop until just right."
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