January 11, 2009

Getting better at cooking

Filed under: culture,philosophy,recipes — Jose @ 8:42 pm

And so it happened that one day, when I called upon my good friend’s mother, Azalia, for advice on making something or other for the 10th time in as many weeks that she said:

“El cocinar es probar”

Now, that may sound vague and uninspiring and I can honestly say it didn’t mean a whole lot to me then.  But time has given the statement validity and today, it defines cooking for me.


As far as sustenance goes, we don’t need much. Technically, you could survive eating buttermilk and potatoes for the rest of your life.  But who wants to live like that?  Not me and probably not you either.  You wanna get better at cooking?  Fer reals?

Taste early and taste often.

  • Taste your marinade (before you put the meat in it), if it tastes yummy-sour-salty, you are golden.
  • Taste your sofrito after you add all the ingredients but before you add the protein to it… Is it tomato-sweet pepper-sherry goodness?  Aces.
  • Taste that water the rice is cooking in, if it’s salty like ocean water, you will be pleased with the result.
  • Did you over-salt something?  Try removing some of it and replacing with water or milk, cook for 5 minutes and taste again.
  • Is your sauce dull and insipid?  Add some salt or a pat of butter or a squeeze of lime.

Try to hit as many of the sensations you can: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, umami.  If all else fails, salt is your friend.


When you taste as you go, you get a better understanding of what influence your ingredients or techniques have on what you’re preparing.  Like anything, the more you do it the better you get at it.  So get to it–and taste, taste, taste.

True fact: The sense of “Taste” used to be known as “Gustation”.  Talk about old-skool Spanglish!



  1. Wonderful post and very true.

    Comment by Nathan — January 12, 2009 @ 2:34 am

  2. Gustation? Fer Reals?

    Comment by Alex — January 12, 2009 @ 5:27 am

  3. Very true. Even when I cooked professionally I did not see that many cooks taste their food enough. I would add smell. At least 50% of how our brains react to taste comes through our olfactory organ.

    You can test this by putting a clothes pin on your nose and blind fold your eyes and taste something. It will be nigh impossible to taste much.

    When you go to buy your meats, smell them. Always buy from a butcher if possible. Fish that smells fishy is no good. Beef that’s off can be smelt.

    When you are cooking waft the fumes into your nose does it smell right? Then taste it. Great article.

    Comment by Alvin Mullins — January 12, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  4. Very true Alvin, the nose knows.

    Comment by Jose — January 12, 2009 @ 9:49 am

  5. Fantastic! Again…you make my mouth water

    Comment by Roy M — January 12, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  6. Roy, it’s your thirst for knowledge.

    Comment by Jose — January 12, 2009 @ 9:42 pm

  7. And if you can’t make salt your friend, try extra garlic, or black pepper, or tiny pieces of Japanese peppers (capsicum anuum)which resemble cayenne peppers but are mild to slighty hot.

    Comment by Mamey — January 13, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  8. So well said and, for me, so easy to lose sight of. Whenever my cooking lacks that “je ne sais quois,” I will have to look back on this. Excellent post!

    Comment by Lara — January 15, 2009 @ 11:18 am

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