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The One Skill Every Cook Must Master

Gourmandize logo Gourmandize 2017-08-11

Mastering this skill is the line between GOOD cooks... and GREAT cooks. 

The One Skill Every Cook Must Master © Provided by Gourmandize The One Skill Every Cook Must Master

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You can go by recipes all you want, but they can only teach you what to cook... Not how to cook. 

Like a well-practiced grandmother or seasoned chef, making unforgettable food requires skill. And the most important skill any home cook or chef can learn is mastering the Maillard reaction. 

What Is It?

All of our foods are composed of proteins, sugars and water. The Maillard reaction is the chemical process of using heat, moisture and time to transform those proteins and sugars into something new — changing the flavors, smells, and colors. It's often referred to as "browning" food while cooking, and imbues food with that complex, deep, lightly charred flavor.  


So Why Do I Want It?

Humans are omnivores, meaning we eat a large variety of foods, but we aren't able to easily digest them all. Many raw foods are either too dangerous (like meat) or too complex (like potatoes) for our bodies to digest, but cooking those same foods kills off potentially harmful bacteria and makes nutrients easy to access. As a result, we have evolved a taste for cooked foods. And food that has been subject to the Maillard reaction signals, through aroma and appearance, that it's safe to eat and its nutrients easy to access. 

Face it: what's more enticing than freshly roasted coffee, crusty bread, or juicy grilled steak? Basically, this is what makes food absolutely delicious. 

How Do I Get It?

High-temperature cooking, like frying, grilling, roasting, toasting and baking all produce the Maillard reaction. However, the reaction can also be controlled by using...

  • More protein: like glazing pastries with milk or egg, for a lovely golden color.
  • More reducing sugars (glucose, fructose, lactose and maltose)
  • More pH: like adding a pinch of baking soda to carmelize onions
  • Less water: like drying your meats with a towel before cooking
  • High temperature: when frying, grilling, or stir-frying, turn the heat up! Steaks are exquisite when cooked over high heat for a brief period, resulting in a crispy, charred outside and tender, juicy inside. 

Play around with these factors — with a little experimentation and experience, you'll see what works. After a practice, you'll be able to take this knowledge and improve on old recipes as well as invent new ones.

Have a favorite cooking tip? Tell us in the comments! 

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