Updated: Jun 18, 2018 2:01 pm
You might not call yourself a fancy chef, but you probably consider yourself pretty good in the kitchen after years of experience. So you may freak out a little bit when we tell you that you're probably not cooking basic dishes the way that they should be cooked.
Even if you think you know how to cook asparagus and other common foods such as bacon and eggs, you'd be shocked at what a big difference a little tweak can make. We know it can be tough to change your style after you've been cooking these foods a certain way your whole life, but consider this: Once you're able to come to terms with the mistakes you've been making, you'll be able to whip up these common dishes with ease. And when you learn the best ways to cook asparagus, bacon, eggs, and other foods, your meals will be more delicious than ever. Now, you can shake your head all you want — or you can read about how to properly prepare the simple foods you’ve been making the wrong way all along.
How to Cook Eggs and Other Tricky Foods
How to Cook Scrambled Eggs
Although seemingly simple, scrambled eggs are really easy to ruin if you cook them improperly. And with so many ways to make scrambled eggs — in a skillet, the microwave, or the oven — it’s relatively easy to get it wrong, leaving you with a rubbery glob of goo next to your toast. When cooked properly, however, scrambled eggs can be heavenly. So, what’s the big secret? According to French chef Daniel Boulud of Daniel NYC, it's a double-boiler and a lot of time. “What’s very important,” Boulud told The New York Times Magazine before gently cracking seven eggs into a sieve, “is to strain them so you remove what makes the coagulation lumpy. It should be smooth, not lumpy.”
After “straining” his eggs, chef Boulud poured his concoction into a bowl, seasoned it with white pepper and a little bit of salt, and placed the bowl over a pan of simmering water.
“It’s a kind of love affair,” he continued. “If you spend half an hour making scrambled eggs in the morning for someone, then you really love them.”
How to Cook Pasta
Pasta is yet another dish that seems easy to nail down: Pasta + water = dinner, right? Unfortunately, there’s a more specific science to cooking pasta. One box of pasta calls for at least one gallon of water. If the pasta noodles look crowded, then your pot is too small, which will cause the noodles to feel tacky and unevenly cooked.
To cook pasta the right way, fill a large pot with cold water and add salt as the water is coming to a boil. According to Del Posto's former executive chef Mark Ladner, you should add about 1 tbsp. per quart of water. Whatever you do, though, don’t add olive oil to your pasta water, as it prevents your sauce from sticking to the noodles.
As cookbook author Lidia Bastianich has said, “Do not — I repeat, do not — add oil to your pasta cooking water! And that’s an order!”
Make sure the water is boiling (it’s what keeps the pasta from getting mushy) and stir. Don’t forget to stir; failing to do so will leave you with unevenly cooked pasta.
Finally, do frequent taste tests, and then refrain from draining all of the pasta water — it’ll be a great addition to the sauce. Afterward, don’t rinse the cooked pasta! According to Giada de Laurentiis in her cookbook Everyday Pasta, ($19, Amazon), “The starch on the surface contributes flavor and helps the sauce adhere.”
How to Sauce Pasta
We hate to break it to you, but you’ve probably been saucing your pasta incorrectly as well. If you’ve been pouring your sauce on top of your noodles while they’re still in the pot, you’re doing it wrong. “You should always add noodles back to the pan and cook them with the sauce,” Justin Rupp of Austin, Texas's Olive & June told Thrillist.
While it’s cute to think about a grandmother in the middle of Italy stirring a giant pot full of roasted tomato sauce and later piling it on a mountain of noodles, that image is a bit misleading. Pasta sauce isn’t meant to be poured on top of your noodles; the two should, however, always be cooked separately so that your noodles don't end up mushy.
Here's how to do it: Cook your sauce in a nice hot saucepan. Once your pasta is cooked, transfer it to the saucepan (rather than vice versa). The easiest way to do this is with a set of tongs if you’re working with skinny pasta or a metal spider if you’re working with pasta shapes. If you followed the previous step, you should also have a good amount of pasta water left over.
Once your pasta is in your sauce, add the pasta water. This is important, because it’ll help your tasty sauce cling to the pasta better. Then, add your fat: A small amount of butter or olive oil is the best way to give your pasta texture. Lastly, simmer: Simmering your sauce will help make it thick and flavorful. Add your cheese and herbs (off heat) and serve immediately!
How to Cook Asparagus
Asparagus is one of those tricky foods, but when it’s cooked just right, it tastes like a delightful dose of crisp, caramelized yumminess. It’s also super cheap and goes perfectly in quiche, pasta, or salad. You can steam it, sauté it, roast it, or grill it. But when done wrong, it turns into a soggy, sorry mess.
To get the most out of your asparagus, you should take a few things into account, including its cooking time. Asparagus continues to cook even after you remove it from the heat, and because it only takes a few minutes to cook, it’s best to keep a close eye on it. If you’re baking it in the oven, take the veggie out before you think it is done to avoid overdoing it. Another way to do this is to place the asparagus in an ice bath right after removing it from the heat, which will not only stop the cooking process but help lock in the vegetable's bright green color and crisp texture.
You should also prep your asparagus before you cook it; don’t just throw it in the pot and assume it’s going to come out perfectly. Snap off the hard ends and trim the feathery tips before you cook them so it’ll be ready to eat as soon as it’s cooked.
Lastly, steer away from canned asparagus and try to get it fresh when it's in season. “Always look for stalks with tightly closed buds at the tip, and avoid stalks whose bottoms look dried out,” famed chef Bobby Flay told CBS News.
How to Cook Bacon
Bacon is probably one of the most delicious meats out there, but cooking it can be a hassle, especially if you’re doing it wrong. The best way to cook bacon — and to avoid a big mess — is to cook it in the oven. All you need to do to achieve bacon bliss is preheat the oven to 425 degrees, line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, and place an oven-safe cooling rack on top. Set your bacon on top of the cooling rack in a single row, and then bake until it’s crispy. No grease, no mess — just perfection!
Need an expert’s opinion? “I like to check my bacon after 10 to 15 minutes of baking,” Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond wrote on her blog The Pioneer Woman. “When it’s getting close to being done, make sure to peek at it every few minutes. Bacon can go from not-quite-done to burnt very quickly.”
If you need a few more reasons as to why you should bake your bacon instead of cooking it the traditional stovetop way, here are four quick and to-the-point notes:
1. Baking your bacon gives you the freedom to cook an entire pound of bacon at one time in just a matter of minutes.
2. Baked bacon cooks flat: It doesn’t curl up.
3. If you’re doing it the oven way, you won’t have to worry about turning it. It’ll cook evenly all the way through.
4. No more grease burns or stains!