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I love my mother, but I don't love her cooking. She has regularly gotten people queasy due to her seasoning selections, and at times, she doesn't even really bother reading what seasonings she adds to classic dishes.
Over the years, her lack of seasoning skills has caused quite a few problems with dinner—not to mention several thousands of dollars of profit to the local Chinese takeout restaurant. It has also inspired me to be a better cook, simply because I don't want to put people in the hospital with food.
The first thing I did when I decided to learn to cook was figure out what the worst seasoning mistakes people make were, and actively worked to avoid them. Here are some of the biggest gaffes every aspiring chef needs to avoid.
You are overcrowding the pan.
Did you know that one of the biggest mistakes you can make when seasoning involves your cooking process? If you're frying food up, you need to make sure to let your food get some space while it's cooking.
Overcrowding the pan causes problems with keeping your food evenly heated. Since heating affects seasoning's efficacy, an overcrowded pan can cause food to become unevenly seasoned. Leave plenty of room between foods, and you'll get better results.
You forgot to add salt.
Though salt isn't always healthy for us in large quantities, there's something to be said about food that has an appropriate amount of salt in it. Most of the time, people forget to add a dash of salt into their dishes while they're seasoning stuff up.
This causes dishes that may taste bland, sour, or just plain weird. If you want to add a pop of flavor, a pinch of salt will allow you to get the most out of all the seasonings you want to have.
You are not tasting as you go.
Any chef worth their salt will tell you that recipes are great, but they're not the be-all and end-all of good cooking. Even if you are following a recipe to the very letter, there's something to be said about tasting the food you're seasoning as you're making it.
A small taste will allow you to figure out if it needs more salt and pepper, or if it needs to be diluted because you over-seasoned it. Being able to gauge your flavor by taste will give you all the feedback you need.
You added dried herbs too late.
A lot of the most successful celebrity chefs are really iffy about using dried herbs because they tend to turn into a disastrous eating experience if you're not careful. With dried herbs, you have to let the flavor release itself as moisture re-enters the herb.
The process of getting herbs to do that is long and requires both heat and time. You can't always speed it up by dropping herbs into a stew over high heat; water will reabsorb at its own pace.
You really need to take your time when using dried herbs. If you're adding dried herbs to something prepped at room temperature, it could take hours for the goods to absorb.
What usually ends up happening when you're cooking with dry herbs that are added too late is that you end up having food that tastes great for five minutes... then quickly becomes overpowering. Yikes!
A better way to season your food, if you're pressed for time, would be to opt for fresh ingredients and spices that come straight from the garden. The flavor distributes faster, and you won't need to use as much to get that zing you need in your food.
You are using pre-ground black pepper.
A lot of spices will continue to taste the same once they are ground up into tiny bits, so it's easy to assume the same can be said about black pepper. However, using that pre-ground stuff is one of the worst seasoning mistakes you can make for a reason.
The moment black peppercorns are cracked open, they start to lose their potency. By getting pre-ground pepper, you're forcing yourself to use a larger amount of seasoning that may or may not even taste good.
Just use a pepper grinder. It's way more worth it.
Your ground spices were going stale.
Contrary to popular belief, ground up spices can and do go stale. Most people don't know that and won't recognize when it happens until it's too late. Sadly, this means that one of the worst mistakes you can do when seasoning is something you might not even know you're doing.
If you're using old spices that have gone stale, you'll notice that your food tastes stale, musty, or flavorless. Ground up herbs do not last as long as intact spices, even if they're in an airtight bottle.
It's often better to just grind your own herbs than to try to store ground up seasonings at home.
You do not cook with lemon.
When life gives you lemons, you can do way more than make lemonade! Lemons are about as useful as salt and pepper when it comes to adding a punch of flavor.
Many chefs believe that one of the worst cooking mistakes people make is that they forget how good lemon is at adding flavor. It can be used on fish, veggies, pasta sauce, and even mashed potatoes. A good rule of thumb to follow is to add some lemon whenever you feel like a dish is missing something.
You were not actually reading the recipe or the spice label.
This is one of the worst cooking mistakes to avoid; and yet, there are people out there who just skim recipes and expect the recipe to turn out well.
How can you actually make the food correctly if you don't read how to do it? Moreover, how can you stray from the recipe by replacing ingredients with things that "kinda look like it" and hope for the best? You can't.
Speaking as someone who had Chicken Paprikash made with ground up chili thanks to a parent who didn't read labels, please don't do this. It won't taste anything like the stuff from the best healthy cookbooks you've been wanting to read.
You do not match the seasonings to the food you're making.
Seasonings are a lot like clothing. To make things really taste great, you're going to need to match! Everyone knows that certain seasonings taste better with certain foods.
For example, classic pairings like lemon and fish or rosemary and steak will always work. On the other hand, weirder pairings, such as cinnamon and fish, or sugar and steak, will not work well.
If you're really not good at picking seasonings, it's best to stick to the "tried and true."
You did not season the meat before it hits the heat.
My boyfriend was the one who called this one of the worst seasoning mistakes out there, and up until he told me about it, I wasn't aware people even did this. So, let's set the record straight, shall we?
You need to season your steak before you cook the steak. You need to add spices and salt to your burgers when they are still ground-meat patties. If you're making a turkey in the oven, I suggest rubbing kosher salt on it before you turn on that oven.
If you don't season the meat before you cook the meat, the spices will not absorb in. That means your meat will taste bland and gross, no matter what cooking method you choose.