12 Cooking Rules You Should Be Breaking

By Laurel Randolph on 29 January 2015 0 comments

In the world of cooking, breaking rules can lead to either a deliciously unique dish or a kitchen disaster. Sure, there are some rules you should always follow, like salting pasta water, using exact amounts of leavening, and food safety rules. But spending time in the kitchen can be more relaxed and fun if you break a few rules — just like in life.

The following are 12 common cooking rules that you can feel free to break without risking an unfortunate outcome. So tap into your inner rebel and get cooking!

1. Let Ingredients Sit Out Before Baking

Okay, so bringing cold ingredients to room temperature is still a requirement. But leaving butter and eggs out all day on the counter isn't a must and, let's be honest, we forget to do it half the time, anyway. When you're ready to bake, set your eggs in warm (not hot) water and carefully microwave your butter. In five minutes you'll have room temperature ingredients and be ready to bake deliciously fluffy cakes and tender cookies.

2. Rinse Chicken Before Cooking

Wrangling a chicken out of its packaging and rinsing it without making a huge mess is quite a feat. Luckily, rinsing chicken is totally unnecessary. Worse, rinsing the bird risks spreading any troublesome germs all over your kitchen. Poultry producers give their chickens a wash before they go out the factory door, and any worrisome germs will be killed as long as you cook the chicken to temperature (165 degrees). Just pat the bird dry, apply seasoning, and shove it in the oven. Don't forget to wash your hands and disinfect anything that came in touch with the raw chicken.

3. Use Lots of Water to Cook Pasta

Every dried pasta package will tell you the same thing: haul out your biggest pot, fill it up with what feels like a ridiculous amount of water, and wait for what feels like an hour for it to boil. It turns out that for smaller pastas you can get by with a relatively small amount of water and almost no boiling, saving time and energy in the process. Just boil your water, add the pasta, return to a boil, stir a few times to keep it from sticking, cover it and shut off the heat. You'll also have heartier pasta water that will help bind thin sauces.

4. Breakfast Is for Breakfast; Dinner Is for Dinner

Guess what? You're an adult and you can eat whatever you want whenever you want. If you're making the effort to cook yourself a meal, and you want breakfast for dinner, then have breakfast for dinner. An omelette, some potatoes, and fruit makes for a satisfying meal any time of day. And we all know how good a leftover slice of pizza can taste for breakfast. As long as you're eating a balanced diet, throw away the mealtime rule book. (See also: 25 Breakfast for Dinner Meals)

5. Mix Your Dry Ingredients and Wet Ingredients Separately

If you're making a souffle or a fluffy, fancy cake, by all means mix up your wet and dry ingredients separately. But if you're throwing together a batch of chocolate chip cookies or a banana bread, then skip this step. Simply put all of your dry ingredients into a bowl, mix them up to make sure the leavening is well distributed, add the wet ingredients and mix until combined. You'll have one less step and one less dirty bowl, and no noticeable difference in the finished product.

6. Don't Salt Your Beans Before Cooking

We've been told for years not to salt dried beans before or during cooking since it will slow down the cooking process. Turns out that's a bunch of hooey. Not only will salting your beans before and during cooking not affect the cooking time, it will add deeper flavor and end up requiring less salt to properly season.

7. Soak Your Beans Before Cooking

Speaking of bean myths, you don't need to soak beans, either. Many recipes recommend soaking dried beans overnight or "quick soaking" them by bringing the beans to a boil and letting them sit for an hour before cooking. Either method will decrease cooking time a bit, but require extra effort and planning. Many cooks think that not soaking beans will actually result in better flavor and texture. All you have to do is stick your beans, water, and seasoning in a pot and cook in the oven for a couple of hours, and you'll be rewarded with perfect beans.

8. Sift Your Dry Ingredients

Sifting your dry ingredients does two things: It makes your flour and other ingredients nice and fine, and evenly distributes ingredients. But you'll only notice the consistency element if you're making something texturally delicate, and you can ensure your ingredients are well-dispersed by whisking them together. Cooking a light as a feather cake? Just sift it. A quick batch of brownies? Don't bother. One less step to worry about, and one less gadget to wash.

9. Don't Put Hot Food Straight Into the Fridge

Most of the time, when you have leftovers or make a dish ahead of time, you wait until the dish cools off before putting it away in the fridge, right? Stop it. According to the FDA, you can skip this step. Not only will it not harm your fridge, it will keep your food from growing potentially harmful bacteria. If you're worried about affecting the temperature of other foods in the fridge or pushing your fridge over the edge, set the food in its pot or container in a bowl of ice water first to cool it down. Or store hot food in smaller, separate containers.

10. Truss Your Bird

We've long been told to truss our chickens and turkeys before cooking (trussing means to tie together the legs of the bird with string). This makes for a picture-perfect main dish, but is actually optional. Some chefs believe that trussing a bird prevents dark meat from cooking properly and dries out the breast. If you're short on string and plan to carve your finished chicken or turkey for serving, then throw your bird in the oven and don't sweat it.

11. Use the Exact Milk Called for in the Recipe

Some recipes call for specific types of milk you may not keep around at home: buttermilk, low-fat, whole. This can prove annoying when you've already got a gallon of milk to use in the fridge that simply isn't the right fat percentage. Never fear, it usually doesn't matter. If you're making cookies or a cake, swapping low fat milk for whole milk or vice versa won't usually produce a noticeable result. For buttermilk, just take a few minutes to make your own buttermilk and you're on your way. Note that for milk-heavy recipes like puddings you'll want to follow the recipe as written.

12. Follow the Recipe Exactly

If you're a new cook or just a finicky one, it can be hard to deviate from the recipe without knowing what the results will be. But one of the joys of cooking is experimentation — this means unique successes and real failures, and no matter what, it means stimulating experiences that you learn from. The more you experiment, the better you will get, and the less you'll see a recipe as a set of strict rules and more as a starting point. So throw caution to the wind and fire up the stove! You'll be glad you did.

What cooking rules do you break?

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