Home cooking has had a resurgence. There was a time, not long ago, where to cook your own food at home was a hobby, like knitting or woodworking. Now, we see everyone trying to be a “home chef”. As someone who grew up in a family of cooks, with multiple restaurants and the best eatin’ at family gatherings known to man, I am lucky to not be new to the game.
Many people who are new to cooking, attempt to duplicate recipes exactly without knowing WHY. Not saying that following a recipe to the T is a bad way to cook…but it is not as fulfilling as understanding why things taste good together and having the ability to making a recipe your own. It also doesn’t give you the ability to look in the fridge and figure out something yummy to throw together for a fantastic meal.
We have put together three key factors that will let you cook like a pro, or at least put together a dish you can be proud of and your family will devour.
Start with the Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity is the base of all Cajun and Creole cooking (yes, there is a difference). It consists of Onions, Bell Peppers, and Celery—usually in equal amounts. Some people add Garlic, Parsley, or Shallots, but that’s not really where we are going with this. Start by cutting up equal amounts of bell pepper, onions and celery, throw it all in a hot pan with some melted butter or olive oil, and slowly cook it down until your vegetables are soft and they turn a nice opaque color. I like to cut my celery really fine so it breaks down slower. Make sure to remove all of the white insides and seeds from the bell pepper to ensure the perfect taste. Once the veggies are cooked down, you can add just about anything from canned tomatoes to the cream of mushroom soup for a red or white sauce or start a full meal by adding chicken or sausage. The Holy Trinity makes up the base of just about anything that tastes good. Feel free to cook down some trinity and add what you have a hankerin’ for; it will most likely taste yummy. Needless to say, you will want to add salt and pepper and any other type of seasoning that fits the style of food you are cooking.
Make a Roux
A roux is a thickening agent that is used if what you are cooking has a gravy or sauce base. there are many different types of roux, a blonde roux (made with butter and not cooked too long) a dark Cajun roux, which usually has bacon grease or another animal fat and is cooked to a dark brown. A basic, in the middle roux, is made with equal parts of oil and four. Wisk the two together in a pan over medium high fire, stirring the entire time, until it turns about the color of a paper bag from the grocery store. My granny used to refer to the deepness of a roux by saying lighter or darker than a “Sweggmans bag,” which was a prominent grocery store in New Orleans. Can’t be lazy for this part; you HAVE to stir this continuously until the roux is thick and brown. Then you will want to put the liquid in. The liquid can be bullion, chicken or beef broth or stock, or water. Put in a little at a time as it will react with the hot mixture. Once the liquid is added cook it down again and some more until you have a rich gravy base. This becomes the base of any gravy.
Make your Own
Let’s face it – processed food is full of things that are terrible for you, but we love them all the same. An easy get-around to your favorite processed food or prepared seasoning – READ THE INGREDIENTS. I started doing this when I was a kid and realized that I knew all the spices or ingredients and I started putting them together myself. Some examples: taco seasoning, chili seasoning, Chinese seasoning and so on. Look for something you like and read off the main ingredients. I wouldn’t recommend stocking your kitchen with Yellow #9—but the onion powder is onion, cumin is cumin, basil is basil and so forth. The ingredients in your favorite stuff from the shelf will give you a lot of insite on how to cook it. When you read a recipe, look for the combination of ingredients and attempt to get a feel for how they go together. Last is to smell your seasonings. Want to know what flavor a particular seasoning has, smell it.
Its really not that hard to be a great cook. You just need to understand some of the basics and not be afraid to try new things. Once you start with the Holy Trinity and have the critical roux down…you are well on your way.