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7 Top Chef-Approved Tips for Home Cooks

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We can always use new tips and tricks for making our cooking easier, faster, and more delicious. So we've partnered with Crown Publishing to share some of the pro lessons from chef Kristen Kish's new book, Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques.

Kristen Kish knows a thing or two about cooking: she won "Top Chef" season 10, hosts "36 Hours" on the Travel Channel, and has cooked at some of Boston's best restaurants. Now, she's written her debut cookbook, designed to help experienced home cooks incorporate more classic French technique and fine-dining flare into their cooking. And whether you’ve seen her on TV, eaten her food, or are just hearing her name for the first time, there’s over a decade of cooking wisdom to learn from in these pages.

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The book, Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques, is full of stunning food photography and fine dining plating. But the heart of the book is in her moving introduction, where she shares stories about her life as a Korean adoptee in Michigan, a few stints as a model, and her time in culinary school, all the way to filming (and winning) "Top Chef." And her cooking reflects those various stages of her life. She weaves mentions of Midwestern comfort food throughout, some even as sources for her fine-dining dishes, like Kataifi-Wrapped Burrata with Date Syrup—a Middle Eastern-flavored dish that takes inspiration from mozzarella sticks. Her extra fancy potato chip and caramelized onion hors d’oeuvres recipe includes an anecdote on her grandmother’s technique to get all the crumbs out of an empty bag of chips. (Hint: it uses a spoonful of French onion dip to capture all the crumbs.)

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Happy Accidents: 4 Foods That Almost Didn't Exist

Kish guides readers through her own cooking mishaps that lead to some delicious discoveries—like “oven-frying” chicken thighs when she forgot about them for hours, or turning ice cream that won’t freeze into creme anglaise and her guests were none the wiser—while she was still finding her way as a young cook in Boston. In a book full of complicated food, it’s nice to know the very accomplished chef behind the recipes also messes up occasionally!

Kristen Kish's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Kristen Kish's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

But the mistakes don't derail Kish; this story has a happy ending. Under the tutelage of famous Boston chef Barbara Lynch, she turned into one of the best young chefs in town. Her impeccable technique and and artistic eye for presentation secured her role as chef de cuisine at Lynch’s award-winning restaurants Stir and Menton. And while the exquisite presentations of these beautifully photographed dishes may not be realistic for home cooks every night of the week, Kish lets us in on some of the tricks of the trade as a successful chef, from how to get the most from your vendors (it’s ok to ask more of them!) to how to get the best possible ingredients at the store (from bay scallops to green beans).

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Here are 7 tips from Kish's book that will be useful for any home cook (plus a recipe from her new book that's perfect for fall):

1. Blanch at home

Blanching, a classic technique to partially cook ingredients in salted boiling water, is used often in restaurants, but not so much at home. Kish makes the case for adding blanching to your at-home cooking technique repertoire: it keeps green vegetables vibrant, makes peeling tomatoes and onions much easier, and evenly cooks tender meats (like sweetbreads) to then sear.

All About Blanching
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All About Blanching

2. Waste not, want not

Even in the fanciest restaurants, chefs have to be vigilant about the bottom line, and thrift is king. Kish has directions for juicing discarded pea pods to make a poaching liquid for vegetables so they taste more like themselves. The method—juicing scraps then poaching—can be used for carrots, beets, and even celery. Her seared lobster entree with foie gras sauce and pickled radishes started as a way to use foie gras trimmings and became one of her all time favorites. The starting point for Kish's pan-seared Arctic char with shaved artichokes and soubise (an onion sauce) was to use up truffle trimmings (not such a bad problem to have, but the point is still a good one). Save your scraps and let your inspiration take you from there.

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My Week of Waste-Free Cooking (& How You Can Do It, Too) by Kate Weiner

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3. Take a fresh look at your ingredients

In the hyper-competitive restaurant world, chefs have to think of familiar ingredients in a new light, or risk falling into obscurity. It’s one of the reasons why restaurants are at the forefront of culinary innovation. To get the most out of expensive seafood, Kish suggests separating fish skin and flesh, then frying the skin to make fish “chicharrons.” They’re an unexpected and delicious garnish you can pull off in any kitchen.

4. Unexpected ingredients can make a dish

Along the same lines, sometimes swapping out a single ingredient for something less expected is all you need to make a dish seem extra-special. “Miso to me is a non-fatty version of salted butter," writes Kish. "It’s salty and rich, acts as a thickener, and has a sweet undertone and a huge umami factor. Why not use it like you would salt and butter?” Why not, indeed. Try Kish’s extra fancy mashed potatoes with miso, or anywhere else you’d use professional chefs' favorite fat.

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5 Unexpected Ways to Use Tahini by Hillary Pollak

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5 Ways to Use a Spent Vanilla Bean Pod by Dorie Greenspan

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5. Sauté twice for $10,000

Kish has a $10,000 mushroom-cooking technique. (That’s how much she won on Top Chef, not how much it will cost for you to make these mushrooms at home!) She sautés mushrooms once to draw out the moisture (moisture: the enemy of golden, seared fungi), then drains the mushrooms, and finally cooks them a second time, guaranteeing the most caramelization possible out of any variety—even those bland white buttons. It's a technique that makes the most of an ingredient, without adding a huge amount of work.

All About Wild Mushrooms

All About Wild Mushrooms by tama matsuoka wong

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How to Prep Mushrooms

How to Prep Mushrooms by Sarah Jampel

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6. Cook chicken breasts slow and low

“A beautifully executed chicken dish is the mark of a great cook,” says Kish. Pulling off perfect roast chicken with chicken breasts—which are often dry and bland—presents even more of a challenge. But home cooks will be thrilled to know Kish’s low-and-slow method can be replicated at home with no special equipment. You might not have the energy for Kish's beautiful, abstract art-like presentation on a Tuesday night, but the food will taste just as good.

7. Be a cook and a baker

In the old debate of cooks vs. bakers, Kish is the rare chef who excels at both sweet and savory cooking, which can help any home cook trying to work on their weak spots. I very much consider myself a cook, and Kish blew my mind when she described a batter as an emulsion: like mayonnaise, you have to add ingredients slowly lest the batter breaks. Sometimes all you need is an explanation of the hows and whys of to understand why recipes are the way they are. Now I’ll never have lumpy batter again.


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Kristen Kish's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

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Serves 6 to 8

Cabbage Rolls

  • 1 or 2 large green cabbages, enough for 12 to 15 large leaves
  • 4 cups of your favorite sauerkraut
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 5 smoked bacon slices (optional)

Stuffing

  • 1 pound ground pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon sweet, smoked, or hot paprika (I like a mix)
  • 2 teaspoons ground fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup grated white onion
  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked white rice
  • Kosher salt
  • Grapeseed or other neutral oil
Go to Recipe

What are your most valuable kitchen tips? Let us know in the comments!

We've partnered with Crown Publishing to share some of the pro lessons from chef Kristen Kish's new book, Kristen Kish Cooking: Recipes and Techniques.

Tags: Kristin Kish