Easy-to-Miss Reasons Why Your Dinner Doesn't Turn Out
Never again will you put in all that work just to sit down to a so-so meal.
Rice That Somehow Manages to Be Gloopy and Crunchy
You followed the directions on the bag, but your basmati is still a pot full of mush, with each grain mysteriously (and annoyingly) undercooked in the center. Marie Simmons, who has written two books on rice
, says that before she learned this method, even though she was a good cook, her rice was a sticky, half-cooked mess. The trick, she discovered, is to use a wide, shallow skillet instead of a deep saucepan. This way, the rice is spread out in an even layer and there's a broader surface for evaporation, so the grains cook evenly. (In a small saucepan, the rice overcooks on the bottom of the pan, but is perfectly cooked on the surface.) One more piece of advice: While the rice simmers, resist the urge to stir. This will only make those perfectly cooked grains stick together.
Photo: Paul Brighton/iStock/Thinkstock
Meatballs That Didn't Get the "Ball" Memo
The difference between a spaghetti and meatball dinner and a spaghetti-and-crumbled-meatballs-in-the-sauce dinner (hey, the meatballs are in there somewhere!), is simply a matter of adding a little more of one ingredient. Many people shy away from adding too much egg to their meatball mixture, since wet meatballs are difficult to roll. But Dan Holzman of the New York City restaurant chain The Meatball Shop
, says eggs are the glue that holds the rest of the ingredients together. Without enough egg, meatballs are dry and will break when you cook them. Using slightly damp hands (run them under the faucet and then shake them dry) can make wet meatballs easier to handle.
Shrimp That Tastes as if It's Been Swimming in a Metal Sea
Iodine is naturally found in seawater, and shrimp is a rich source of the mineral. While this mineral is important for thyroid health
, it isn't the flavor you want shining through in your shrimp scampi. Chef Robert Ruiz of the Carlsbad, CA, restaurant The Land & Water Co.
, says the first step to avoiding a strong iodine taste is to buy fresh (not frozen) shrimp, alive if possible. The USDA does not require a "use by" or "best by" date on frozen seafood, so it's hard to know how old the shrimp you're buying is. And, says Cree LeFavour, author of Fish: 54 Seafood Feasts
, the further shrimp travels, the more likely it is to be older and taste of iodine. So, if you can't buy fresh, frozen is generally okay, if it's produced domestically.
Parsley That Tastes Like It Came Out of a Tube
Fresh herbs can elevate almost any dish, but even if you buy them fresh, by the time they get onto your tacos, they often have morphed into a soggy, squishy mass. The mistake many people make with basil, parsley, cilantro and other leafy herbs is that they don't wash and dry them correctly. These greens tend to be sandy, so you have to rinse them well (let them sit in a bowl of cold water for a minute, then lift them out and change the water). Then, don't simply pat them dry on a tea towel. David Schmidt, executive chef of Enchantment Resort in Sedona, AZ
, has a foolproof technique: Shake out as much water as you can, and then pick the sprigs off the stems and lay them on a dry paper towel. Lay another towel on top to soak up the water. In five or 10 minutes, the herbs should be dry and ready to chop into pieces that won't clump.
Indian Food That Somehow Loses Its Wow Factor
It seems to happen every time: Your chicken biryani looks and smells amazing, but tastes impossibly bland. The reason, says chef, author and spice expert Christina Arokiasamy
, could be that your spices need refreshing (they get "tired" after anywhere from six months to three years
, so write the date you first opened a spice on the container). Another common pitfall: Tossing the spice into the dish without preheating it. Arokiasamy suggests dry-roasting ground spices (for whatever you're making, not just Indian dishes) in a frying pan just before cooking, which will help release their aromatic oils (it only takes a minute or so). If you are using spice seeds such as cumin, fennel, mustard or cardamom; dried chilies; or cinnamon stick, fry them in a little olive oil at the beginning of the cooking process for robust flavor.