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6 Smart Cooking Tips Straight From Culinary School Pros

Food52 logo Food52 10/1/2019 Erin Alexander
a bunch of food on a table © Provided by Food52

I love a good kitchen trick. From this genius hack for juicing a lemon without a knife to this why didn't I think of that? way to peel butternut squash, there isn't a kitchen trick that I won't at least try once. And as an enthusiast, I'm always looking for new additions to my repertoire.

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So I asked a few culinary school graduates and current students for the very best cooking tips and techniques they learned while studying everything from classic cuisine to pâtisserie (the French word for pastries and sweets). And trust me, I found more than a few gems—six to be exact.

From a foolproof way to soften butter in a jiffy to the easiest way to save a broken sauce, here are the best kitchen tricks these pros (and soon-to-be pros) shared.

6 Culinary School–Approved Cooking Tricks

1. The Quickest Way to Make Perfect Chocolate Ganache

For Intermediate Pâtisserie student Shabnam Kapasi, pulling off perfect chocolate ganache for cakes, cookies, tarts, and the like had always required a bit of planning and time management. "The ganache had to be cooled at room temperature for me to get its perfect cream texture," she told me.

On top of that, most recipes that she had found online pre-culinary school had called for boiling-hot cream to melt the chocolate. But at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, she says, "they taught us to make the creamiest ganache ever so quickly, by using cold cream and melted chocolate." It's a super versatile method, she added, and can be used with both dark and milk chocolate. Here's how it works:

  • Melt chocolate on a bain-marie (aka double boiler). Once the chocolate is two-thirds of the way melted take it off the heat and let the remaining one-third melt in its retained heat.
  • Once the chocolate reaches 40°C, add cold cream (it should be around 12°C) and mix it well to get the most luscious ganache instantly.
  • When the ganache is smooth and fully integrated, whisk in a small amount of room temperature butter.

2. A Speedy Method for Softening Butter

The thing about time-saving cooking tips: they can sometimes be hit or miss. Like this butter-softening hack, which Le Cordon Bleu Pâtisserie student, Kathryn Irizarry, has never had much success with.

"Maybe I just didn’t have the patience to let the butter sit under the glass long enough," she says, "but as someone who doesn’t own a microwave (just not a priority with limited New York counter space), a technique we learned here is really helpful." It couldn't be simpler, quicker, or more foolproof:

  • Measure out the full amount of butter needed for the recipe you’re making. Then, either measure or eyeball 1/3 of that quantity to melt over a bain-marie.
  • Place the 2/3 cold butter in a separate bowl.
  • Once the 1/3 quantity of butter just melts (you’re not looking to bubble or brown the butter here), take it off heat and pour that over the cold butter.
  • Whisk to combine. You need to slowly stir at first so the melted butter doesn’t splatter, but it will quickly blend into a mass of softened butter.

3. Why Mise en Place Makes Everything Easier

If there's one thing every professional cook knows, it's that mise en place—which in French translates to "everything in its place"—is the key to fuss-free cooking. Just ask Nicholas Tang, the Executive Chef of Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen & Bar and Grand Diplôme graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London, who says it's the most useful tip he picked up at culinary school.

"Before cooking a dish, it is important to have all your vegetables cut up, protein marinated, and all your sauces set out so that everything is within reach as soon as you need them," he explains. "With all these preparations in place, it makes cooking so much more enjoyable and stress-free, and you can enjoy your glass of wine while cooking."

While you can mise en place for just about any recipe, having everything all prepped, measured, and ready to go is most helpful when you're dealing with more complicated recipes, he adds.

4. A No-Fuss Trick for Picking Thyme Leaves

Of course, that isn't the only culinary school trip Chef Tang has up his sleeve. During his time at Le Cordon Bleu, he picked up a brilliant tip for one of cooking's most mundane tasks: picking thyme leaves.

"Chef Loïc Malfait taught us this ingenious way of picking thyme off the stem by putting it into the freezer," he says. Once the thyme is frozen (store them in a zip-top bag overnight), he explains, it falls right off the stem—easy as can be. As a bonus for home cooks, keeping hardy herbs (think: thyme, rosemary, oregano) in the freezer keeps them fresher for longer.

5. How to Tame Unruly Parchment Paper

As a graduate of the Basic Pastry Certificate at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, Amy Dieschbourg says she "learned many techniques that form the foundation for French pâtisserie, such as pâte brisée, pâte sucrée, choux dough, pastry cream, buttercream, meringue, piping, and more."

But one of her go-to tips also happens to be unexpectedly simple: use magnets to hold down parchment on metal sheet trays. That way, the next time you're making chocolate chip cookies or roasting root vegetables and need to roll out a swath of parchment paper, you won't have to worry about the ends rolling up and making it impossible to set anything down. Once everything's all set on the sheet pan, remove the magnets and bake or roast away.

6. The Best Way to Save a Broken Sauce

According to Julie Choi—a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and, currently, manager of the New York restaurants Bann and The Woo—the hands-down best cooking trick she ever learned is that hot water always help out in a pinch.

"It’s so simple but has saved me on so many things in and out of the kitchen," she says. "It saves broken sauces, makes reheating things easier, and reconstitutes almost everything."

She finds herself using hot water in the kitchen pretty much daily. When a sauce breaks, for instance, all you have to do is add hot water a little at a time and stir, stir, stir. Like magic, you're sauce will be all mixed back together.

Related video: Tips From The Test Kitchen: How to Cut Citrus [provided by Southern Living]

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