Let’s talk about three simple things you can do to improve the food you’re cooking. The first two are really ways that diets have been ruining food for decades. And the third is a mistake that I made for a looooong time before realizing that it was a mistake.
Cook With Butter And Other Flavorful Fats
The first thing you can do to make your food taste better: use more butter. Or palm oil. Or coconut oil. Or some other fat with some flavor.
A few decades ago, nutritionists put their heads together and decided that butter and lard and the other traditional fats that people have used since the dawn of civilization are the very things that are killing us.
So instead of using fat with some flavor, people have turned to flavorless vegetable oils and things like margarine. Or they’ve cut out most of the fat completely.
I’ve even seen the recommendation to saute in broth instead of oil (called “Healthy Saute” by the one recommending it), which pretty much eliminates adding any flavor to your veggies with fat and forces you to keep the temperature low (since water turns to steam at 212 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a double whammy in the taste category, which leads me to believe that most “healthy eating” advice accidentally becomes “boring cooking” advice.
Well, if you want your food to taste better, buck that trend. Ignore the nutritionists and use the very real foods that people used regularly up until the last 50 years or so, that actually taste like something and add to the flavor of your food. I’m talking about butter, lard, bacon fat, palm oil, coconut oil, and goose or duck fat. (Double bonus: they not only taste better, they’re actually better for you!)
I have a theory (unproven) that using ingredients with more flavor makes you full faster. If that’s true, it means that using fats that taste like something will help you eat less. And I promise you that half as much butter will add twice as much flavor as that tub of fake margarine you have in the fridge.
Now, I know some of you out there are still deathly afraid of anything with saturated fat or animal fat because you’ve been told to avoid them. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check out my run-down on the best cooking oils to help disabuse you of this notion.
Add A Little Salt
Along with fat, we’ve been told to cut back on salt. And it makes for bland cooking. If you’re concerned about your salt intake, cut out the packaged foods and cut back on restaurant eating. Those are the major sources of added salt.
Without those, adding some form of salt to your food is fine. In fact, if you’re a health-minded person, you’re probably not using much salt at all and could do yourself good to use a little more salt in your cooking.
Now, I’m not saying you need to overload everything with salt. You can (and should) add tons of flavor with herbs and spices. But there’s something about salt that improves the overall balance of a meal, reducing bitterness and acidity and enhancing other flavors, when used judiciously. It doesn’t have to be just straight salt either. I use one of the following quite often in my cooking:
- Olives and capers
- Tamari or soy sauce
- Sea salt
I keep a couple types of sea salt around. Right now it’s a pink Himalaya and Sel Gris (a gray French salt). I know people that buy nice sea salt everywhere they go and have 10 or 15 different types. So experiment with different ways of adding salt and flavor to your meal. If you Eat Real Food, eating a low-sodium diet is yet one more thing you can stop worrying about.
Turn Up The Heat
This is a mistake I made for a long time. Between worrying about smoke points and oxidation of oils and not wanting to overcook my food and being concerned about vitamin loss at higher temperatures, I didn’t realize that I needed to turn up the heat to make better tasting food. Pick a good, stable cooking oil (see the above list) and you really don’t need to worry about anything else.
With higher heat, you get the effects that you’re really going for when cooking. Sugars caramelize, proteins brown, and your food gets a nice crust on the outside. If you’re sauteing, the goal is to quickly brown the food, not simmer it slowly. If you’re pan-frying, you want to sear the meat quickly, which means using higher heat than you’re probably using. (Just don’t do what’s in the picture above.)
Don’t be afraid to turn up the heat. Just make sure you keep a good eye on things so you don’t overcook them. If you’re looking for further tips on the proper application of heat to get the most out of your time in the kitchen, my Introduction To Real Food Cooking Course will lay it all out for you so you get perfectly cooked food, every time.
Eat Better Food
That’s it. There’s three very simple ways that you can make your food taste better. Two of them come down to not listening to well-meaning, but misguided people that think everything that tastes good must be bad for you. The third is letting heat do what it do.
Really, the best news is that you can eat delicious food that is good for you just by using these kinds of real food ingredients. There’s no need for diets that cut out all enjoyment from food.
What other ways do you use to add great flavor to your meals?