Have you ever tried to cook a meal and have it turn out the opposite of amazing? You have the technique right, follow the recipe to a tee, use both a timer and measure the temperature but when you put the food in your mouth, it just isn’t right.
All chefs know that to cook a great dish you must begin with the basics; great ingredients. Quality, fresh ingredients result in healthier food that tastes and looks amazing. Before you set about making those homemade falafels, or prepare food at your restaurant make sure you’ve got great ingredients. Here’s how to pick them out.
Go to the produce market early
The early bird catches the worm. This applies to shopping for fresh ingredients too. When you’re there just after suppliers deliver, you will get the best picks. Go later and you have to contend with just what has been left behind by those early risers.
Buy spices whole
Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food can be quite flavourful and that comes down to the spices and herbs used in the cooking. They can be used in stews, for salads, in marinades and herbs. Whenever you’re buying spices, whether it is cinnamon or cumin seeds, try to get them whole as opposed to ground. Whole spices will keep their flavour for much longer.
When you need to use some, grind a bit of it in a mortar or grinder.
Be mindful of storage
How you store your ingredients after buying them will affect how long they keep and by extension the taste they bring to your food. When it comes to meats and chicken, the best place to keep them is a clean freezer. Don’t forget to give it a good scrubbing every so often.
When buying fresh vegetables, make purchases in smaller batches that will be consumed in a short period of time. Even if you can keep a lot of them in the fridge for days, some vegetables, like tomatoes, taste different (better) if kept at room temperature.
And for spices? The best place is a cool dark place.
Use your hands and nose
This is one of the things online shopping is yet to achieve. If you are buying leafy vegetables like lettuce, turn them over and inspect for mold or wilt. Avocados will also benefit from gently feeling (not squeezing) their skin.
Go ahead and take a deep sniff if you are buying fish. Fresh fish has a distinct flavor but so does spoilt fish.
Use your eyes
When buying a cut of red meat in particular, you want to look out for marbling (the fat in meat that creates a pattern that looks like marble). A relative amount of marbling will make for juicier more flavourful beef and a juicier beef Shawarma for instance.
If you are able to buy in person, engage all your senses. Smell where you can, touch and taste if you are allowed to. Even your ears will help when buying certain ingredients. A hollow sound when you tap the shell of a coconut is a good indicator that is the one to take home.