4 Common Cooking Mistakes

Are you guilty of these common cooking no-nos?

As part of a new series, “The Mistakes We Make,” chef and food writer Mark Bittman stopped by the 3rd hour of TODAY to explain four common errors home cooks make in the kitchen — from turning meat too often to pre-chopping every ingredient. 

Mistake 1: Turning meat too often

If you want to brown meat, let it sit in the pan until it “releases” — which it will do when a crust forms. 

“When meat is ready to be turned, it tells you,” Bittman said on TODAY, demonstrating his technique on a perfectly seared steak.

“Many people would be like, OK, I’m going to turn this thing now.” However, he said, “if we wait a minute or two, it’ll be brown, it’ll release because the brown surface is slick, and then you turn it. You only need to turn it once.”

Bittman added that he pre-salts his meat a few hours in advance and wraps it in a towel. 

“It dries the surface out a little bit, and then it browns better,” he said.

The same doesn’t go for fish, though, because of how easily it flakes.

“Fish is a little trickier because it falls apart,” he said. “It’s easier to cook in fat because then it doesn’t stick at all.”

Mistake 2: Overcrowding the pan

If you put too much food in a pan at once, it will never brown because it will release all of its moisture and steam.

“What happens is, all the moisture comes out of the vegetables … and it steams rather than browns,” Bittman said. “So if you keep what’s in a pan minimal, you can get this beautiful browning because it stays hot; the liquid evaporates as soon as it comes out of the chicken and vegetables.”

To avoid overcrowding, you may need to cook a meal in two pans, he said.

Mistake 3: Prepping ingredients ahead of time

There’s no need to pre-chop every ingredient before you start cooking. To save time, just chop whatever ingredients you will need to begin the recipe — then prep the rest of the ingredients while the first ingredients are already sizzling away.

“Just start cooking,” Bittman said. “So, you would normally cook an onion first, right? So you start, you chop your onion, you put it in the pan, then you chop your garlic, you put it in the pan, you chop your carrot, you put it in the pan. And then by the time you’ve got everything in the pan, it’s all cooking.”

Mistake 4: Using dull knives

A dull knife can make chopping more difficult — and more dangerous. 

“With a dull knife, if you cut a tomato, you squash it,” Bittman said.

Also, a dull knife “tends to not cut easily, and slides off,” he said, using an onion to demonstrate how slippery an unsharpened knife can be. “If it slides off in the direction of your fingers, it’s really bad.”

A sharp knife, on the other hand, “just goes right through.”

Bittman recommends investing in a simple, inexpensive knife sharpener and using it every day or two on the “fine” setting.

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