It’s officially holiday party season. That means festive tables crowded with indulgent, carb-heavy dishes of the mashed, baked, and roasted variety. With moderation as...
Chef Nyesha J Arrington has absolutely adored the kitchen since she was just a little girl. Arrington, born in Southern California to a multi-cultural family was introduced to diverse foods such as bulgogi, octopus and homemade kimchi. During the early stages of her palate development, exposure to these culinary experience has shaped Arrington’s ideas in cooking ever since. Always inspired to integrate flavors, and techniques from around the world thus creating a personal style that is unparalleled. We asked her to share her favorite tips for success in the kitchen.
TIP 1: Make and store your own stock
Stocks are the very first layer of flavor when constructing a beautiful broth. By storing stocks, you’re set up to create any broth with an additional layer of aromatics and sometimes sodium which can be used for almost any soup base! Making stock once every 2 weeks from leftover vegetables, chicken bones, and bone-in steaks can be a great way to be sustainable! Note: roasting the vegetables for your stock will yield deeper complexity in flavor. Here's a few ways to store your finished stock:
- Stock storing option 1: My favorite way to store stock is by reducing it by half, then freezing it in ice cube trays with a lid. This is a great way to utilize small portions at a time for quick sauce making.
- Stock storing option 2: Another way to store stock in the freezer, is by simply pouring it into resealable plastic resealable bags. Then, fill each bag no more than 3/4 full. Squeeze out as much air as possible and place the sealed bag flat on a sheet pan and transfer to the freezer. Wait until the stock is frozen solid in flat sheets and then remove the sheet pan and stack the bags of flattened stock as you would on a bookshelf.
TIP 2: Never use Iodized table SALT
That is, unless you're trying to melt the snow outside! Iodized salt is SUPER salty and hard to control. Iodized salt also contains sodium chloride, which can cause high blood pressure.
Cook with these salts instead:
- Kosher Salt: a course sea salt and great “all purpose” salt. Best for salting pasta water and everyday cooking.
- Maldon Salt: an English salt that has a clean flavor and a healthy natural finishing salt.
- Himalayan Salt: a mineral rich salt that naturally adds nutrients to your dishes.
TIP 3: Not every dish needs pepper
Black pepper can burn very easily. So, it’s best to add pepper at the end of cooking instead of the beginning. However, adding pepper to a steak before searing is ok, as it aids in developing a nice crust. Lighter flesh animal proteins should take black pepper more sparingly as black pepper may overpower your dish.
Tip 4: Cooking oils are not interchangeable
Oils have different smoke points and flavor profiles. Here's the oils I have at the ready in my pantry:
- Grapeseed oil: Is best for everyday cooking. It has a neutral flavor and smoke point of 420 degrees. Grapeseed oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which can be a heart-friendly option.
- Coconut oil: MCTs in coconut oil are good for increasing your body's energy expenditure and burning calories! Coconut oil pairs best with roasted vegetables, contains a unique composition of fatty acids, and has a smoke point of 350 degrees.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Is another great everyday cooking oil and has a smoke point of 374 degrees. The top 5 producers of olive oil are Morocco, Turkey, Italy, and Spain.
TIP 5: Cook with the season: When you cook with the seasons, you get the best value for your grocery money. Freshly picked fruits and vegetables taste better and have more nutrients than ones that have been stored for weeks. Not sure what’s in season? Visit the USDA’s Seasonal Produce Guide.
TIP 6: Diversify your flour with gluten free alternatives
My favorite gluten free flours to use are chickpea, buckwheat, and tapioca. Here's how I use them:
- Chickpea flour: Also known as gram flour, has more protein and fiber than regular flour. It’s also popular in both Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. Use chickpea flour for dishes like hummus, falafel, socca, poppadoms and pakoras.
- Buckwheat flour: Despite the name, buckwheat isn’t actually related to the wheat family and is naturally gluten free. Buckwheat flour has a slightly nutty flavor which is great for making pancakes, soba noodles, and as a replacement for wheat flour in baked goods.
- Tapioca flour: Tapioca flour is one of the most versatile gluten free flours. This starchy, slightly sweet flour is amazing at bringing texture to the dish. I like to use it as a partial replacement when making tortillas and adds a chewy texture. Tapioca flour can also make a fantastic thickening agent in soups, sauces and pie fillings.
TIP 7: Choose the right heating technique: Moist Heat vs Dry Heat
Moist heat cooking includes poaching, simmering, steaming, and confiting. Each food is submerged in a liquid, stock, or fat to transfer heat.
- Poaching (160-180°F): Best for salmon and slow cooking eggs for benedicts
- Simmering or confit, if using fat (185-205°F): Best for soups, potatoes, and sauces
- Boiling (212°F): Best for balancing vegetables
- Steaming: Best method to retain the largest amount of nutrients
Dry heat cooking methods include grilling, pan-frying, broiling, and baking in an oven. It requires very high heat to brown, crust, or char meat such as particular cuts of steak and roast.
TIP 8: Use the right equipment
- Dutch oven: Great for soups, braising, and baking casserole dishes.
- 12-inch Large sauté pan: Sauté pans are the best to use for searing, sautéing vegetables, and stir-frying.
- 4qt Sauce pot: Making sauces, or cooking grains and pasta is ideal for this pot.
- 14-inch Cast Iron pan- Every kitchen should have a cast iron pan! Essential for quality searing, roasting meats, also great for pan frying.
- 6-inch Nonstick sauté pan: Nonstick pans are an essential part of a well-rounded cooking collection.
TIP 9: Experiment with spices and herbs
Adding spices and herbs to your arsenal is a fun way to add layers of flavor to simple dishes. Aroma from spices can transform a meal by adding a range of volume and depth, from a hit of sweetness, to a kick of heat, and even a blast of freshness from torn herbs.
My favorite spices are Coriander, Nutmeg, Cumin, Paprika, Cardamon. These spices add complexity to dishes without overpowering them. Fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, and chives boosts visual appeal as well as adds a nice roundness or global feel to your creation.
TIP 10: Keep your knives sharp
A sharp set of knives is a key component of successful cooking. Dull knives can be dangerous to use when prepping meats and produce. I suggest using a professional knife sharpener to sharpen your knives every 3 months. The Misono UX-10 series are my favorite knives to use.