5 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Home Cooking, According to Michael Symon
Michael Symon may be a nationally-recognized chef with restaurants all over the country, but The Chew co-host still knows quite a bit about home cooking. Symon grew up cooking with his mother and grandmother, which formed the foundation of his culinary sensibility. At Atlantic City's Savor Borgata Food and Wine festival on November 10, the chef opened up about the basic techniques that will immediately elevate your home cooking.
1. Use more salt.
Symon recognizes that people are squeamish about salt, and he's "not trying to play doctor," but the chef implores you to consider using more than you might ordinarily.
"The difference between a good cook and a good chef is how they season their food," he said. "I know people watch on TV and go, 'Oh my god, that Mario Batali puts so much salt in his food!' But here’s what you have to rememeber: everything we make, we’re making from scratch. Anybody who says, 'I don’t cook with any salt; my food tastes good and people like it,' your friends are lying to you."
He noted that salt opens up your palate and activates your tastes buds—which is why steak from a steakhouse tastes "100 times better" than what you make at home, because they're seasoning it properly. Symon recommends using kosher and sea salt.
2. Stop overcooking your meat.
"Don’t get a filet or a ribeye and cook it well-done because then you’re wasting your money," Symon said. If you like to cook your meat for a long time, instead opt for a braciole or short rib, where the meat will stay tender. But if you overcook a steak, you're basically killing the meat twice, according to Symon. Unfortunately, his mother routinely makes this mistake.
"When I go to my parents house and she says we’re having steaks, I make sure I’m there an hour early," he said. "'Where are the steaks?!' 'They’re on the grill!' 'Mom, we’re eating in three hours!!' I run outside and take them off."
3. Buy seasonal ingredients.
The bright red tomato at the supermarket might look beautiful, but it's the middle of winter, and it will probably taste nothing like a tomato. Instead, opt for canned San Marzano tomatoes, or in season veggies like squash, beets and other root vegetables.
"My grandmother always cooked depending on the seasons," he said. "Italian food is so good because they're so programmed to eat seasonally. That's what makes food so delicious and special."
4. Learn a few techniques really well.
"If you learn a recipe, you know one recipe," Symon said. "If you learn a technique, you know a thousand recipes, because you can use that technique to make a thousand different items."
For example, the chef suggests mastering a homemade pasta dough recipe, and then the possibilities—and variations—are limitless. Symon, who grew up making pasta with his mother and grandmother, thinks it's a great activity for the whole family.
"It's a fun thing to do with kids or grandkids," he said, though it can get a little competitive. "Growing up, I remember when we would eat the pasta after making it, I'd be like, 'Look at these! These nice ones are mine!'"
5. Splurge on good meat.
"The secret to cooking is the product," Symon said. "You can be the greatest cook or chef in the world, but if you start with a shitty product, you’re only going to come up with—maybe, maybe—a good dish, probably a bad dish. But if you start with a great product, even if you’re a bad chef, or average cook, the chance of ending up with a good dish is significantly higher."
For Symon, this holds especially true of steak.
"With all my tricks, all my 30 years of cooking professionally, if someone gives me a shitty steak, I'm going to be able to give them maybe a decent steak," he said. "But if I get a prime, dry-aged steak, all I really have to do is put salt and pepper on it."
And remember—don't skimp on the salt.