5 Cooking Hacks for Flavorful Meals in a Snap (Chef Secrets and More!)

5 Cooking Hacks for Flavorful Meals in a Snap (Chef Secrets and More!)

Recipes with extra-long ingredient lists can be daunting, especially when you just want to get something on the table fast. Luckily, you don’t need dozens of ingredients — or even tons of time — for flavorful meals. Here are five of our favorite cooking hacks for easy, delicious meals with just a handful of ingredients and tons of flavor.

1. Always buy the best.

Ingredients have far more flavor when they come from good sources. A local zucchini that’s grown in-season is going to taste far better than a grocery store zucchini in December.

“The best way to add moreishness to any dish is to start with excellent produce and products,” cooking instructor Terresa Murphy of La Cucina di Terresa says, and she’s not alone; most chefs swear that technique is moot if you don’t start with excellent base products.

Buy your produce, meats, eggs, and dairy from local producers whenever possible, to ensure that the ingredients themselves are of high quality and full of flavor.

Try this out: 

This super simple tomato and mozzarella salad only has six ingredients, so you’re going to want to opt for the very best. Choose seasonal, locally grown tomatoes and the best mozzarella you can get your hands on to make this salad a real treat.

2. Grind your own spices.

Grocery store spices are pre-ground for ease of use, and sure, it’s a bit more effort to grind spices for each individual recipe, but there’s no doubt you’ll be able to tell the difference when it comes to flavor.

To make this cooking hack simple, buy a small electric coffee grinder, to be used only for grinding spices. Buy small quantities of spice at a time, and keep them in a cool, dark place. When you’re ready to use them, just give them a whir in the grinder; you’ll soon see how much more flavorful they become.

On a related note, consider drying your own herbs for an even bigger punch of flavor from these ingredients.

Try this out:

Freshly grind your sumac and cumin to make this yellow split pea dip, and the already delicious appetizer will take on whole new layers of flavor.

3. Aromatics are your friends.

Mirepoix, Holy Trinity, homemade spice pastes — some of the best cuisines in the world know that the secret to a flavorful dish is starting from the base. A flavorful base begins with aromatics, things like garlic, celery, onion, carrot, and fresh or dried chiles.

Cooking instructor Terresa Murphy starts many of her dishes with an Italian soffriggere, made of small-diced celery, carrot, and red onion sautéed in olive oil. Mexican cooks will often begin with a spice paste that they fry in lard to add depth of flavor to a finished dish.

Whichever aromatic base you prefer, these flavorful ingredients should be defaults on your shopping list, so that you can reach for them in a snap.

Try this out: 

This fried kohlrabi recipe makes the most of the aromas of parsley and garlic to add a lot of flavor without too much extra work.

4. You don’t need to speak French to Maillard.

The Maillard reaction is one of our favorite cooking hacks — a staple of cooking that you may be using without even knowing it. Also occasionally called the browning reaction, the Maillard reaction is the rearranging of amino acids and sugars in food that occurs when the food is exposed to high heat. When this happens, the food browns or caramelizes on the outside, adding even more flavor to the dish.

The Maillard reaction is what makes toast taste different from bread, grilled vegetables taste different from raw, and gives flavor to the crust of a seared steak.

Try this out: 

These grilled carrots with honey and dill get a lot of their depth from the charred exterior of the carrots, which allows the honey to echo the natural sweetness of the vegetable.

5. Don’t eschew texture.

It’s natural to focus on flavor when it comes to food, but don’t forget about the importance of texture. Antonio Masa, pastry chef at Paris’ infamous Plaza Athénée hotel, claims that texture is often more important to him than flavor when perfecting one of his desserts.

“When you’re using excellent chocolate, but the texture of say, a pastry cream, isn’t perfect, the dessert won’t be great,” he says. “On the other hand, if you’ve got sort of a basic chocolate, but the the texture is perfect, the dessert can still be excellent.”

He swears by a interplay of different textures — smooth, soft, crisp, crunchy — in nearly every one of his desserts to ensure that people keep coming back for more.

Try this out: 

This cauliflower “tree steak” plays with textures by pairing a seared cauliflower steak (there’s that Maillard reaction again!) with a cauliflower purée.

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Cooking image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco