The Top 10 Mistakes of Student Chefs
Tuesday, June 12 2012
Resident Chef Julia Matthews outlines the top mistakes student chefs make and how to overcome them.
1. “I’ll just go and finish my homework while dinner is cooking.”
Safety rule number one: Never leave something on the stovetop unattended. You might think that your activity is not very absorbing, but it only take two seconds to burn a perfectly good biscuit, or to stick something to the bottom of your new pan. I can count the number of times I’ve done this by the number of ugly scorch marks on the bottom of my favourite saucepan. If the recipe says ‘stir continuously’, you have to stand by the stove, not stir it once then leave it to go watch Grey’s Anatomy.
2. “I can’t find the spatula, I’ll just use this fork to mix my omelette in the Scanpan.”
Whenever I see someone using a fork on a saucepan, I die a little on the inside. Why? Because kitchen saucepans aren’t invincible. If you use a metal fork in a stainless steel or Teflon pan, it will scratch the surface off and your pan will be near useless. Not to mention, I will personally hunt you down. You can get away with a metal spoon in a metal saucepan, and your can use metal implements in cast iron pans (such as a heavy duty wok), but for everything else you should use silicone or other food-safe plastics.
3. “I can do stir fry in a saucepan, no problem!”
Though you might be able to get away with stirring a pot with a soup spoon, you will never be able to swap cooking techniques with different pans. Take a clue from the name: A frypan is used for frying, a saucepan is used for sauces. Each pan has a different name because they have physical differences—the thickness of the base, the width and depth of the pan and the material it is made of—that change the way the meal will cook. You cannot stir fry in a deep heavy based saucepan because the liquid doesn’t evaporate and you can’t flick things around as fast, so you end up with a soggy stew fry instead. Likewise, a frypan won’t do for making soup or stew because it heats a larger surface area thus cooking the dish too fast, they’re generally not big enough, and it’s just plain messy. There are some ways you can make do with not have a particular saucepan; there are more ways that you can’t.
4. “My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef are valid cooking shows.”
5. “I don’t have orange juice, I’ll use Fanta instead.”
Just because something contains oranges doesn’t make it orange juice. In this example, Fanta also contains carbon, sugar, colour and other flavouring, hence why adding lemon cordial to a fish sauce is NOT a valid substitute. Make sure you use the proper ingredients.
6. “A teaspoon doesn’t sound like much, I’ll just throw in a handful of herbs.”
If a recipe only asks for a little bit of seasoning, there is a reason. Herbs and spices don’t look like much, but they can really pack a punch. You only need two or three threads saffron to produce a strong saffron rice. Don’t forget the golden rule: You can always add more, but you can’t take it away!
7. “It’s still okay to eat, it’s been in the fridge!”
Scraping the mould off the top of the food won’t make it safe to eat. If it has expired, it is mouldy or it smells iffy, don’t hesitate to chuck it out. It’s better losing $2 chucking out that box of fried rice than losing $200 to your local hospital.
8. “So that wasn’t sugar, it was salt?”
Properly label your ingredients if you keep them in boxes, and make sure you know where they are. Particularly if you tend to keep salt, sugar and flour in the same place. You might not think they look very similar, but it would be disappointing if you pulled out your deflated muffins from the oven and realized you used plain, not self-raising flour. It’s also beneficial if you have ‘Good Samaritan” friends who like to clean your kitchen for you…I had a friend who refilled my sugar bowl with salt once. I haven’t taken sugar in coffee ever since.
9. “I can’t find the measuring cup, a Macca’s cup will do.”
This isn’t such an issue when cooking on the stove, but if you’re baking it helps to use proper measuring cups and spoons. Baking involves a lot of delicate chemistry, and sometimes a recipe just won’t work unless you have the ingredients down to the grain. Investing in a set of measuring cups and learning to differentiate between a pinch, a heap and a handful will help enormously.
10. “It’s got salad in it, it must be healthy!”
Just because something contains vegetables doesn’t make it any healthier, depending on what else is in the dish. A Caesar salad, while it does contain lettuce, can also contain bacon and cheese which are high in fat. Salad dressings are also a huge trap, as commercial dressings usually contain lots of oil, cream or salt. Even sushi can be a trap, if it also contains something deep fried, crumbed or heavily salted. The healthiest things you can eat are fresh fruit or vegetables: don’t kid yourself. But since the raw food diet is unappealing to most of you, go for fresh, lightly dressed, pass on the side of fries.