Without a doubt, the number one question I am asked by home cooks is “how do I make my food taste like it does in the restaurant?” It’s a question with many answers, but there are some distinct differences between how food is cooked in a professional kitchen and how it’s cooked at home.
Consistency of ingredient preparation: This is a big one, and it can really affect the final product. It’s totally fine to chop up vegetables or slice meats for prep quickly when you just want to get dinner on the table, but it’s important to note that in professional kitchens, everyone who touches a recipe has to conform to an iron clad method of preparation. This is why regardless of who is in the back, your dish tastes the same.
Take note of the differences between “chopped” vegetables and “diced” vegetables. When cutting meat for str fries, it is always cut against the grain, and in uniform sizes. This is how to achieve a more professional result without going to culinary school.
Shallots: This is one ingredient that is used way more in professional kitchens than it is in home kitchens, but its addition to your cooking is noticeable. Most professional kitchens use shallots in many dishes, alongside garlic and onions. Shallots are from the same family as onions, and their flavor is sometimes seen as a “bridge” between garlic and onions. They add a depth of flavor to most dishes, are cheap, and can be easily obtained at any grocery store. Pick some up and experiment.
Stock: Nothing is ever wasted in a professional kitchen. One great example of this is the use of leftover meat, bones and skin from animals married with vegetable peelings (and non-presentation worthy vegetables) in the form of stock. The obvious stocks are chicken, beef, and vegetable, but you can also make stock out of pork, lamb, duck, fish, and seafood. Stock adds a punch of flavor to dishes when you need liquid but don’t want to add water. Stock is a base for many of your favorite sauces, including one you likely make at home: gravy. Good, homemade stock will elevate your gravy to new heights.
Butter: It’s not something many chefs would like to admit, but many of your favorite restaurant dishes are likely your favorite because of the judicious use of butter, and butter components (think Ghee, drawn butter and brown butter) The truth is, butter is one of the best cooking oils, and the best carriers for flavor (think about what vegetables sautéing in butter smells like.)
One of the best tricks to learn in the kitchen is how to make brown butter.
Most techniques that can elevate home cooking take less than an hour to learn, but can pay off in huge dividends and clean plates. Thinking about how to keep your recipe prep consistent, experimenting with ingredients, and making your own stocks and butter products can go a long way to achieving professional results.