Are you happy with how much you know about cooking? It’s a simple question but one that comes with a load of issues behind it (does my ass look big in these jeans?), so maybe it’s easier to ask, “Do you love food?” If the answer is yes, then you should want to learn as much about cooking as there is to know. It’s fucking expensive to eat out at good restaurants all the time, and eating out period is rather fattening as well. Learning to cook your own food is healthy, tasty, and it stretches your brain in all sorts of ways that you might not expect. (Example: Cooking itself is very science-y, particularly with regard to heat and chemistry, but also with regard to flavours as well. I enjoy cooking in the same way I enjoy gaming – everything is a puzzle to be solved and a solution to be perfected.)
Anyway, regardless of how you feel, I am never happy with how much I know about cooking. This would probably be true if I did it professionally, but is certainly the case as an interested amateur. I eat in restaurants like this with some regularity, but the food I produce at home is more family-oriented and could often be classified as comfort food (meaning it’s quick, full of flavour, and usually stuff you can toss in the fridge for leftovers the next day). As much as I enjoy great presentation, I’m not going to spend an extra 30 minutes on it while making dinner for my wife and family, and I wouldn’t expect you busy people to do that either.
I know this might seem out of place compared to the other stuff that appears on this blog BUT a lot of my readers are younger males, who may or may not have ever created anything beyond microwave pizza and pouring sauce over rice/pasta (I know this will burst some bubbles, but this is not cooking). They likely lack survival skills for the kitchen. Sooo, I’ve decided to toss some food bloggyness up here on the site once a week to help you guys out (and to also force myself to keep writing and learning about food). Sometimes, I’ll cover basic survival skills. Other times I’ll detail easy, but really flavourful recipes I make all the time. And once in a rare while I’ll toss up a restaurant or cookbook or wine review for something different. If a dialogue starts up and you guys find yourselves getting into it, maybe I’ll do more than once a week – who knows?
In the meantime, expect me to share some recipes and techniques I’ve learned as an adult that result in tasty (and sometimes even healthy) dishes you can make at home.
Survival Skill #1 – Learn to Cook Chicken Breast
The meat most of us eat more than any other is chicken. It is also the meat that gets tortured more than any other by amateur chefs. I say this out of experience – I made terrible, rubbery chicken for nearly a decade, and I did it for two reasons. First, I was terrified of poisoning anyone with undercooked breasts. And second, I had no idea about the proper relationship between heat, meat, and flavour. So today I’m going to try and help you not to make the mistakes I made, and discuss how to make damned tasty chicken breasts that won’t poison anyone either.
If you buy boneless, skinless breasts at the supermarket, you’ll usually end up with some big fatties that look like the ones on the left in the picture below. Note 1: Breasts like that are generally going to be too thick to cook just by sautéing them in a pan. If you try this, you’ll occasionally achieve chicken nirvana, but more often they’ll end up tough on the thin end and somewhat undercooked in the middle of the thick part. This is bad.
Assuming I want to cook them quickly (like for nachos or to toss in a salad) instead of leaving them as full breasts , I will typically just cut them in half to try and make the breast equally thick all around. This causes them to cook much faster overall, and it increases the surface area we get to brown, which adds flavour.
Another thing that adds flavour to a meat that can be really bland is adding salt and pepper to both sides of the breast before you start cooking them. Depending on what style of cuisine you are working with, you can add other coatings as well, but I almost never cook a chicken breast sans salt/pepper. (If I’m doing Mexican food, I usually add some cumin as well and will sometimes squeeze lime over the breast while it’s cooking.)
Note 2 : Your pan needs to be hot before you add the chicken. This was the other big problem I had when I was younger – I’d start cooking chicken in a cool pan and wonder why the damned things never got brown. Eventually I learned from some chef on the Food Network that you needed to have the pan hot enough to cause olive oil to smoke before you tossed your bird boobs in. Once I had that, brown, juicy chicken breast became a regular thing in my house. This is the sort of look you are going for on one side before you flip them over.
In general, you want to leave these suckers alone until they are brown enough you want to flip them. Turning them over all the time can yield some strange results in terms of brownness and doneness, and it just annoys the chicken – I recommend avoiding this. Also note I flipped the one on the far right a little early to compare and contrast. Obviously this isn’t rocket science and it isn’t even hard. However, if someone had taught me this 15 years ago, I would have had a much happier time eating chicken while in my 20’s, and so would all of those poor people who came to our house for parties and had to chew and chew and chew to get through a meal. (Sorry all you people – if you happen to stop by the house now, I promise to do better.)
Because this was short and basic, I’ll toss up another recipe tomorrow with the fresh salsa recipe I make on a weekly basis here in the UK because there is no good salsa anywhere in this entire country. Meanwhile, let me know on Twitter and in the comments if you like this concept and hit me up with future topics you’d like to see me cover.
@mixedknuts on Twitter