The 15 Best Cooking Tips We Learned from Chefs This Year

We will never throw out herb stems ever again.

Much like 2020, 2021 was a year of continued home cooking exploration. While some of us (me) experienced serious banana bread burnout, and others (also me) gave up on sourdough, we continued trying new recipes, taking virtual cooking classes, and upgrading our home kitchen gear. And, like every year, we continued learning from chefs.

At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen this September, we were joined by some of the biggest names in food, who demystified everything from veggie burgers to birria. Paola Velez continued making gorgeous pastries in our Pastries with Paola series, and so many chefs demonstrated their best dishes on Chefs at Home.

So, here's a recap you can actually use — the best cooking tips we learned from chefs this year.

How to make slow poached salmon with leek beurre blanc
Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Christine Keely

Immersion blenders make great whipped cream.

Who knew? Well, Paola Velez did. On an episode of Pastries with Paola where she makes Maria Cookie Icebox Cake, the pastry chef demonstrated you can easily use an immersion blender, the same kind you'd use to purée a soup. "You're never gonna make whipped cream another way, because this is just *chef's kiss*," she said.

Recipe: Maria Cookie Icebox Cake

Sourdough belongs in bread pudding.

In another episode of Pastries with Paola, Velez makes her guava and cheese bread pudding, inspired by her husband's 101-year-old grandmother's recipe. And the bread she uses is sourdough. "The layers of the sourdough give it a tang."

Recipe: Guava and Cheese Bread Pudding

The best biscuits have butter and shortening.

Carla Hall makes her fluffy, flakey, out-of-this-world biscuits by using a combination of grated cold butter and vegetable shortening.

Recipe: Carla Hall's Buttermilk Biscuits

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Torie Cox

Cook your pie longer.

"People are often afraid of baking their pies and cakes and tarts too long," said Martha Stewart at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. But pies especially "should be baked until they're really a good color golden-brown. That may seem like a very long time, but that will definitely be worth it in the final product. It should be nicely browned beneath."

Stewart shared that another crucial step in achieving that perfect golden-brown exterior is topping your crust with sugar: "Sugar on the crust not only helps make it pretty, but it gives it a nice crunch."

Cilantro stems are for saving.

Claudette Zepeda was also at the Classic this year, where she demonstrated her famous birria recipe. Zepeda urged the audience to never, ever throw out their cilantro stems, as they're packed with flavor. To garnish tacos, she includes the stems chopped up with the leaves to get the maximum flavor from the herb.

Recipe: Birria Tacos

Barista-style oat milk makes a great base for sherbet.

Salt & Straw co-founder (and head ice cream maker) Tyler Malek demonstrated how to make boysenberry oat milk sherbet, using the same kind of oat milk you'd use for a latte (like Oatly) to achieve a rich creaminess.

Recipe: Boysenberry Oatmilk Sherbet

Boysenberry Oat Milk Sherbet
Photo by Adam Friedlander / Food Styling by Pearl Jones

You can use Goldfish to make an ice cream cone.

Chef, activist, and Studio ATAO-founder Jenny Dorsey made Banana-Rum Ice Cream in Cheddar-Cracker Cones, and our lives will never be the same.

Garlic should go in last.

At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Guy Fieri said that when he sweats vegetables in a pan, he always puts the garlic in last, and advises that you do the same. "If you want to do it wrong, do the garlic first. Always onion first," he said. "Garlic goes in last, as soon as it gets nutty caramel, add liquid."

Parsnips belong in dessert.

Krystle Swenson, the pastry chef at The Social Haus at the green o in Montana, told us she loves to make cake using grated parsnips instead of carrots. She then tops her cake with whipped cream cheese frosting and crispy parsnip chips and fried sage garnishes.

Recipe: Layered Parsnip Cake with Candied Kumquats

Layered Parsnip Cake with Candied Kumquats
Photo © Anya Kassoff

Everyone deserves a really nice vacuum sealer.

It's pricy, but chef Barbara Lynch said the Avid Armor Vacuum Sealer changed the game for her. "This is so handy in helping me organize leftovers, and I don't have to find matching Tupperware lids," she told Food & Wine. "It also has a marinate button that seals liquids without the vacuum, and I love using it to preserve the abundance of veggies from my garden, as well as my homemade tomato sauce and jams."

Caesar salad is best served grilled.

"One of my favorite things to grill is romaine and use that as a Caesar salad base," chef Danny Grant told Food & Wine. "It elevates the dish by giving it a smoky, almost indulgent flavor profile, which makes it feel incredibly satisfying. Lightly brush romaine hearts cut in half with oil and grill cut-side down for 1 to 3 minutes, until the leaves are slightly charred. Top with all your favorite Caesar salad accouterments, olive oil, lemon, and lots of black pepper."

Recipe: Any Season Caesar Salad

Instant coffee is a baking game-changer.

This tip isn't new, per se, but it's new to me. Ina Garten's double-chocolate cake gets so much of its richness from instant coffee in the frosting and a cup of hot brewed coffee in the batter. My friend and colleague, visuals editor Sarah Crowder, said she always keeps instant coffee on hand now, thanks to this Garten cake recipe. After making it and devouring it, I will too.

Recipe: Double-Chocolate Layer Cake

Double-Chocolate Layer Cake
Quentin Bacon

Reduce wine before cooking with it for extra flavor.

At the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Ludo Lefebvre said that before making coq au vin, he likes to reduce the wine (ideally burgundy) beforehand to concentrate the flavor.

Shallow poaching is the perfect way to cook salmon.

Senior Food Editor Mary-Frances Heck demonstrated how to shallow-poach salmon under a cartouche, a circle of parchment paper, for super-flavorful, tender fish in minutes. (The method works with any mild fish, such as flounder, rockfish, or grouper.)

Recipe: Shallow-Poached Salmon with Leeks and Buerre Blanc

Harness the power of mushroom juice.

At the Classic this year, Fieri had a great tip for getting flavorful broth out of mushrooms, which you can use in savory recipes that call for water to amp up the flavor. Simply wrap the mushrooms in plastic, and put them in the microwave until they're cooked to your liking (and they've released some flavorful broth.)

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