Welcome to our new series Expert Essentials for the Home Cook where we will interview chefs and other food professionals about their top five things a home cook should have, know, do, or understand to be a great cook. We begin our series with Preeti Mistry, a Top Chef contestant in 2009 and a former Google chef. Read on for Preeti's top five tips for a home cook looking to build flavor.
Preeti trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London, where she was born, and currently lives in Oakland, CA. She is in the process of opening a restaurant in the Bay Area called Juhu Beach Club where she will serve Indian street and snack food. Here she offers five great ways for home cooks to boost flavor.
Preeti Mistry's 5 Essentials for the Home Cook
1. Understand salt. How can something be full of flavor but still not taste right? The answer is probably salt. Preeti recommends that cooks salt throughout the cooking process and not just at the end. Always salt onions while sautéing as salt helps to release their liquid, just like when you salt an eggplant before cooking.
2. Understand acid. Acid (vinegar) in a vinaigrette is obvious but rich, creamy, unctuous dishes benefit from a touch of sour, too. A dash of vinegar in cream of cauliflower soup, for instance, or a few drops of lemon juice in a celery root puree. Lemon and lime juice, vinegar, tomatoes, tamarind, and sumac all are acid/sour additions that will add brightness and balance flavor.
3. Roast and grind your spices ... every time. Preeti has a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices. Roasting and grinding whole spices makes all the difference, she says, and not just for Indian food but all of your dishes. She firsts roasts them in a dry frying pan over medium heat, shaking the pan until they become fragrant and there is a light hint of smoke. Then she immediate pours them onto a cool plate to stop the cooking. (Burnt spices are very bitter.) When cool, she whizzes them in the grinder and uses them in her recipe.
4. Grow fresh herbs. Preeti always keeps fresh herbs on hand in her home kitchen. They're not that hard to grow in pots, she insists. Which herbs to grow? The ones you use the most, but in particular she recommends thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and parsley. Fresh herbs are indispensable. Use them in sauces, for marinating chicken, and for braising beans.
5. Salted anchovies. Preeti always has salted anchovies in her pantry. They add the most amazing depth and they don't taste fishy like most people think. Add the anchovies when you are sautéing onion and garlic, breaking them up with your spoon. They will dissolve into the onions, adding a special savoriness that will be hard to identify, but delicious.
Bonus recommendations: Preeti was quite effusive with her recommendations and also mentioned the Microplane zester and to always have plenty of prep bowls on hand for mise en place. Finally, she highly recommends that Americans get over their fear of deep frying, buy a wok thermometer, and start making French fries, samosas, fish and chips and of course, fried chicken.
Thank you, Preeti!
Related: Tips for Better Deep Frying at Home
(Image: Dana Velden, Albert Law)