No clue why your scrambled eggs are stiff and dry, while the brunch spot down the block whips up perfectly fluffy plates hundreds of times a day? Before you throw in the towel and declare yourself a kitchen disaster, we’re here to tell you that a few science-backed techniques might make your life way easier.
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In his new book The Food Lab, author J. Kenji López-Alt will introduce you to cooking hacks so simple you’ll wonder where they’ve been hiding all your life. López-Alt, who writes a column of the same name for the site Serious Eats, is a MIT-educated engineer turned chef. And he’s made it his mission to design carefully crafted kitchen experiments to reveal how to make the perfect scrambled eggs, pasta and more.
Though turning cooking into a science might sounds intimidating, López-Alt is quick to point out that, “Science doesn’t have to be scary or take the joy out of cooking.” In fact, most of his tips are surprisingly simple — like these four tidbits he shared with us below.
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4 Food Lab Hacks to Make You an Awesome Home Chef
1. Salt Your Scrambled Eggs
Sure, scrambled eggs might seem fairly foolproof. But we’ve all had a pan of eggs come off the oven sticky and way too dry. Well, it turns out, the way you salt your eggs might be to blame. “A lot of chefs will say, ‘Don’t salt the eggs until the end,’ but I did rigorous testing, including blind taste tests, and I found the exact opposite is the case,” López-Alt says. Salt prevents the protein in the eggs from binding too tightly while cooking, making them soften upon cooking. The best way to make scrambled eggs is to salt them, beat them and then let them sit on the counter for 15 minute, he says. “Your eggs will come out much more tender and moist,” without being too watery, he says. Test his theory yourself with these 10 Unexpected Omelet Recipes for Any Time of Day.
2. Use Way Less Pasta Water
You thought you knew how to cook pasta…but prepare for your mind to be blown. “When I was learning how to cook, we used a gallon [of water] per pound of pasta, but you actually don’t need that much water — and it’s better to use less,” López-Alt says.
Instead, place dry pasta in a pan or skillet, and fill it with lukewarm salted water until the pasta is just covered. Then, bring the water to a boil. “This method takes less time. You don’t have to wait for the water to boil before adding the pasta — and it saves water,” López-Alt says. Plus, if you’re using your leftover pasta water to thicken sauce, this method will ensure more concentrated amounts of starch in the remaining liquid. “If the pasta water has more starch, it makes the texture of the finished sauce better, it clings to the pasta better,” he says. Sign us up.
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3. Reverse-Sear Your Steak
Meat and potato lovers, this one’s for you. The way you cook steak in your home should be very different from how it’s made in a typical steakhouse, López-Alt says. While a steakhouse will use extremely high heat to sear a steak, flipping it once in the pan and then serving it, you probably don’t own the right equipment to do that in your own kitchen, he notes.
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“The method I recommend is called reverse-sear,” López-Alt says. Get a whole, center-cut tenderloin roast, and cook it in the oven at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When a meat thermometer shows that your steak is cooked to 115 degrees (for a medium-rare steak), take it out of the oven. And now, you can sear your steak, López-Alt says. “What you find is that searing at the end and gently cooking at the beginning, you get a much more even cook, it’s more tender and juicy,” López-Alt says. “It sears and browns much more efficiently because the meat is already warm.” Drooling, yet?
4. Blanch Those Vegetables
Keeping your veggies fresh might be easier than you think. “Blanching green veggies using salted boiling water, and then chilling them in an ice bath is a classic technique but it is one of the best techniques you can use,” López-Alt says. Blanch a bunch of veggies on a Sunday or Monday and they’ll stay good in your fridge for the rest of your week. “When dinner comes around, I just quickly sauté them or zap them in the microwave. It’s a great way to always have fresh, crisp green vegetables on hand.”
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You can also try cryo-blanching your veggies to keep them from losing their flavor, he says. “All you do is freeze green vegetables in a single layer in your freezer,” he says. “The idea is that by freezing them, you deactivate a lot of the enzymes that cause veggies to lose their flavor and sweetness. The ice crystals that form puncture the plant’s cell walls so they get a bit tender, the same way as if you put them in boiling water, and retain that fresh, green raw vegetable flavor.” Place them in a sealed bag to prevent freeer burn. Then, just thaw them when you’re ready, and use them in your favorite recipe!
Can’t get enough? For more easy cooking tips, you can find López-Alt’s book by clicking here.