Bloopers in the kitchen? Kitchen mistakes? Who, me?
Who am I kidding? The number of times I’ve had a moment worthy of a blooper reel is embarrassing!
Well, read on, because I am putting them all down, so that you can avoid them. Some may cause you to chuckle, or roll your eyes at the folly!
Cooking Blunders you must Avoid
Enjoy, and avoid these 10 common mistakes in your kitchen.
Doubling the amount of oil and spices in any Indian recipe
Let’s say you have guests coming over. Or you want to cook more of a favourite dish as you are stocking up for two days. In such cases, you will want to double all the ingredients in a recipe. Correct?
Well, while you should double all other ingredients, there is no need to actually double the amount of fat/ oil (except in case of baked items or sweets). Instead, just increase it by a couple of tablespoons. If you feel the frying is getting affected, you can add a little bit more.
As for spices, do not double! You will really regret this mistake. Add, say, a quarter teaspoon more of chilli, turmeric, coriander and/ or pepper powder. As for Garam masala or all spice, add just a pinch or so more. If you want the aroma of cloves, cinnamon etc to be more marked, you can sprinkle it on the dish after it is cooked.
I like to make notes near the recipe when I do these changes. If I do need to add more or less, it will be readily available for reference the next time I make the same dish.
Heating up the entire bowl of food every time (even though you need only a part of it)
So suppose you doubled your favourite recipe to cook up more than you can consume in a day. Sensible of you, it saves time. The best thing to do next is to cool it, and pop the dish in the fridge (in the right spot) as soon as possible. Serve only the portion you want to consume right away.
Now, about the rest. Remember, it is a large quantity. I have seen many people taking out the whole lot from the fridge, heating it all up (waste of time and fuel) and then putting the dish back in the fridge for next time. This is a mistake you must avoid in your kitchen.
This is because it is likely you will notice a loss of flavour, and more importantly, it also has a higher chance of going bad after the next use.
Here’s how to avoid wastage: When you need some of it, take the container out of the fridge. Transfer the required amount to another glass bowl and heat it up in the microwave. And immediately replace the main container back in the fridge. If your fridge is fine, your dish should last several days in this way. (Useful during a particularly busy time of the week, or if you are alone at home and there is too much food.)
Pro Tip: I also like to separate it into portions before refrigerating (if I have enough space, that is). This way, I can take out only the portion I need for the meal.
Heating milk on high flame
If you think that boiling milk on a high flame while you just wash a spoon at the sink is a good idea, think again! It is just waiting to rise over the edges spill all over the gas stove! By the time you screech and run to reduce the flame, it will also go under the stove and drip to the floor too!
Always set the milk pot on low flame if you want to do other work simultaneously. And if you want to use the flame on high, stand like a statue right there, looking at it! (Yes, I know that that’s very boring!)
Moving away from the burner without setting a timer
Case 1: You have got the cooking pot going, the onions are taking a bit of time to turn golden brown. You think you’ll just load the washing machine and come back.
Case 2: The dish is almost done, it just needs to simmer for five minutes. You are so happy, you just sit in front of the TV and remind yourself to go there in five minutes.
Case 3: Milk has come to a boil, so you want it to simmer for five minutes before turning it off. You decide to fold up the clothes and put them away to save time.
These three cases are all from my kitchen, and have resulted in charred onions, a layer of paneer stuck to the kadhai irrevocably and the milk evaporating to a pale pink colour with a rather nasty smell.
Once I leave the kitchen, there are a ton of things vying for my attention and the poor gas stove is the last thing on my mind. The number of times I committed this mistake is the inspiration for this drawing!
My greatest help has been a kitchen timer. This simple device shrilly reminds you about that all-important step of taking it off the burner!
Get one, or use your phone, or else, stay in the kitchen until it’s done!
Pouring too much oil in the pan for frying stuff
Theoretically, you can reuse the oil after frying anything in it. But we have to admit that it then gets the smell of the puri or fritters or pakora, and it has already been through heating. The oil, especially in a country like India, has started its journey towards rancidity (the spoilage of oil).
Hence, make sure you heat up only the amount you strictly need. Don’t overheat it either.
Keep any leftover oil separate and don’t pour it back into your main oil jar.
Pro Tip: Use this oil up first, and discard it if you smell rancidity. Health over thrift, always.
Adding too much salt
The general rule to adding salt is to sprinkle a very fine layer of it on the surface of the food as you are cooking. Stir well. Taste. Before you decide to add more, remember, the salt cannot be taken out of a dish. So you must never add too much in one go, because the food will be inedible. Add a tiny bit more, and stop.
Be even more careful salting anything that reduces in volume after cooking (like spinach leaves or cabbage) because it will taste too salty after it is cooked. Meats taste fine even if you add a bit more than needed. Be more sparing when seasoning sea fish, though.
(OK, confession time: In my early kitchen experiments, my mistake of adding way too much salt made several dishes utterly horrible. After an emergency call to my mother, I reduced the saltiness by adding a boiled potato to the gravy. It did help. So does adding some cream. But not all recipes will take kindly to this!)
Remember, our bodies are not really meant to consume too much salt. It is actually better to have less of it.
So just serve the food with a smile, lots of love and just put a salt shaker on the table for the dishes that really do require more salt.
Cooking on high flame (except where the recipe asks for it)
Why do I call this a kitchen mistake?
This is because of three reasons.
1. Cooking on high flame always requires more oil than cooking on low flame.
2. On one hand, the vegetable might not have really cooked throughout, hence it may get spoilt easily. On the other hand, it could get burnt or overcooked. This is also not great for texture, taste or the nutritive value.
3. All the food starts tasting the same, and the dishes seem monotonous.
The recommended combination of low heat and less oil means that you cook food gently, with occasional stirring. This will also perfectly bring out the flavours of the ingredients.
It will actually let you think and make conscious choices to vary the textures and masalas you add.
Don’t worry, it will not take too much time. This is because you will be simultaneously cooking your main and sides, and perhaps tossing up your salad.
Contaminating the kitchen and your food
Kitchen surfaces, all raw foods and your fingers contain germs that can get transferred into cooked food. It is critically important to ensure you do not let this happen, especially if you have young children, sick people or elderly relations in your house. This is because they are actually more susceptible to food poisoning, diseases like typhoid, jaundice and so on.
The most dangerous thing you can do is to unwittingly spread disease because of cross contamination, so learn to avoid this kitchen mistake at all cost.
Throwing out stuff that is actually still usable
Every household generates a lot of kitchen scraps. The sad part is that some of it is not waste at all! It can be reused and what’s more, it can actually save you time, effort and money. Learn to upscale—whey (from hung curd), overripe bananas, peels, etc. can all be used in many ways in your kitchen. Read more at Environment-friendly Kitchen Practices
Avoid this kitchen mistake and make your practical contribution to the well being of our planet.
Unplanned freezing and thawing
Do you know that once you thaw food from the freezer to room temperature, you have to cook all of it?
So if you have dumped your entire kilogram of chicken or mozzarella cheese in the freezer, you’ve got to thaw the lot. Consequently, you have to process it all at one go.
Trying to refreeze part of it is a total “no-no” because microbial action has begun in it. It will taint other food in the freezer as well. This kitchen mistake is actually responsible for many a tummy upset and food poisoning.
So, remember to buy smaller quantities that you can consume at one go. In case you get larger quantities, get it divided in the store itself. For example, we prefer minced meat from a particular shop that is a bit out of the way. So we always buy in bulk, but I get it divided into smaller quantities right there.
In case you cannot help buying a large pack that cannot be cut up at a store, divide it at home, before freezing the stuff. For example, if you buy a large package of mozzarella cheese like I do (it’s much more economical), then cut it into 4 pieces at home, wrap with aluminium foil and cling wrap before freezing it. Take only one part out at a time.
Many possible cooking pitfalls can be averted if you are aware of the kitchen mistakes to avoid doing in the first place. These 10 tips will surely help you to stay away from messing up.
Would you like to share some of your adventures and mistakes? They may just help another cook. Do share!