The One Skill Every Cook Must Master
Mastering this skill is the line between GOOD cooks... and GREAT cooks.
You can go by recipes all you want, but they can only teach you what to cook... Not how to cook.
Like a well-practiced grandmother or seasoned chef, making unforgettable food requires skill. And the most important skill any home cook or chef can learn is mastering the Maillard reaction.
What Is It?
All of our foods are composed of proteins, sugars and water. The Maillard reaction is the chemical process of using heat, moisture and time to transform those proteins and sugars into something new — changing the flavors, smells, and colors. It's often referred to as "browning" food while cooking, and imbues food with that complex, deep, lightly charred flavor.
So Why Do I Want It?
Humans are omnivores, meaning we eat a large variety of foods, but we aren't able to easily digest them all. Many raw foods are either too dangerous (like meat) or too complex (like potatoes) for our bodies to digest, but cooking those same foods kills off potentially harmful bacteria and makes nutrients easy to access. As a result, we have evolved a taste for cooked foods. And food that has been subject to the Maillard reaction signals, through aroma and appearance, that it's safe to eat and its nutrients easy to access.
Face it: what's more enticing than freshly roasted coffee, crusty bread, or juicy grilled steak? Basically, this is what makes food absolutely delicious.
How Do I Get It?
High-temperature cooking, like frying, grilling, roasting, toasting and baking all produce the Maillard reaction. However, the reaction can also be controlled by using...
- More protein: like glazing pastries with milk or egg, for a lovely golden color.
- More reducing sugars (glucose, fructose, lactose and maltose)
- More pH: like adding a pinch of baking soda to carmelize onions
- Less water: like drying your meats with a towel before cooking
- High temperature: when frying, grilling, or stir-frying, turn the heat up! Steaks are exquisite when cooked over high heat for a brief period, resulting in a crispy, charred outside and tender, juicy inside.
Play around with these factors — with a little experimentation and experience, you'll see what works. After a practice, you'll be able to take this knowledge and improve on old recipes as well as invent new ones.
Have a favorite cooking tip? Tell us in the comments!
Like this article? For more food news, facts, and fun, follow us on Facebook!
More steaming articles
Chef Tips and Tricks
Try this clever trick to make the perfect zebra cake!
- 2 large water or soda bottles (empty)
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 sticks butter
- 6 eggs
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Ready 2 large plastic bottles, cleaned and dried.
- Add 1 cup of flour to each bottle.
- Add 1/2 cup of sugar to each.
- Melt butter, then add equal halves to each bottle.
- Add 6 eggs, 3 in each.
- Add 1/2 tbsp of baking powder to each.
- Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream to each.
- Shake the bottles thoroughly until the contents are well mixed.
- In one of the bottles only, add the cocoa powder.
- Beginning with the cocoa powder mixture, add a dolop of batter to the center of a circular
- baking tin. Do the same with the other mixture, placing the dolop directly in the center of the previous one.
- Continue with alternating additions of each mixture until all batter is used and the tin is full.
- Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
- Serve and enjoy!