We all make mistakes. In novice cooking, there are plenty of pitfalls that can ruin a dish. But there are also ways to avoid these mistakes. Here we’ll look at some common mistakes and easy fixes that will help you produce beautiful and tasty food. We’ll use a pineapple chicken stir fry as our inspiration. But first, the recipe.
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite sized pieces.
1/2 large onion, diced small
1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into bite sized pieces
1 package (8 oz) snow peas, snap peas or green beans
1/2 cup cashews
1 cup stir fry sauce (recipe in link)
1 cup plus cornstarch with 1 teaspoon each salt/pepper (to taste)
2 tbls cornstarch(divided)
up to 2 cups water
Optional: Additional veggies, water chestnuts, baby corn
1-2 cups uncooked rice
1 tablespoon butter
Once the chicken is cut as uniformly as possible, let it drain and pat dry. Coat the pieces in 1 cup of cornstarch, mixed with salt and pepper. Be sure every chicken piece is dry to the touch, adding more cornstarch if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time.
In a hot skillet, add the chicken in one layer. Cook on high until chicken is dark golden and crispy.
Meanwhile, follow instructions for rice, adding a tablespoon of butter to pot or rice cooker.
Remove chicken and add onions. Cook onions until translucent on medium heat (about 10 mintues). Turn heat back up to high and add pineapple. Cook pineapple until color brightens, and pieces are lightly caramelized.
Meanwhile make a slurry of 2 tbls of cornstarch and 1 cup of water. Turn heat to medium low and add soy sauce mixture to the pan, followed by the cornstarch slurry. Add snow peas and cashews. Mix to coat ingredients in sauce, cooking on low until liquid thickens. Add another cup of water as needed to thin out sauce.
Serve over rice.
You don’t taking advantage of “what looks good” when you go shopping.
To everything there is a season. For example, my original plan for this recipe was to do orange chicken. At the market however, I passed by a gorgeous, golden ripe pineapple that smelled like heaven. The best part about cooking is being driven by what looks good, what season you are in. One of the reasons I love the farmers market is that it provides a rich education on when to expect certain fruits and vegetables, as well as an opportunity to experiment. I’ve never made pineapple chicken before. But I know the basics of technique and felt comfortable enough to wing it.
You don’t mirepoix.
Prepping is key. Spend the first 20 minutes gathering everything you need: pre-measure all your ingredients, wash and chop fruits and veggies, then chop everything else you need in the size you need it. These are my brand new bowls so I wanted to use them, but usually I save clear plastic soup containers from the market and use those for my mirepoix.
One other note: Time is precious, so prep your ingredients in a particular order. Cut fruits and veggies first, then meats. That way, you don’t have use a different cutting board or spend extra time washing the same cutting board.
Place everything you need next to your stove top, as close as possible in the order you will be cooking. Stir fry in particular is a wait, wait, wait, hurry GO! kind of food.
You don’t flavor your rice.
Rice deserves flavor, just as any other starch. Just a tablespoon of butter will give you great flavor. I particularly like using it in the rice cooker, because you also get a little crispy rice at the bottom of the pan.
Who doesn’t like crispy rice?
You overcrowd the pan.
I’ve covered this before, but it is essential to choose a pan that allows food to breathe. Crowded chicken will steam instead of crisp. Sure the food is edible, but really, you are better than that.
You cook food at the wrong heat.
Some meats should sear. Some fruits and veggies should too. Others get better the longer they cook. But sauces can quickly burn, and other vegetables lose crunch and flavor (not to mention nutrients) when cooked at heats that are too high. Get to know your range and find out which foods like it “hot” and which ones like it “not.”
You don’t cook ingredients long enough or you move the food in the pan too much.
You’ve spent the time to get to know your cook top and the ingredients. But now you can’t stop fiddling. Take a look at this chicken piece. That is the result of about 10 minutes of cooking on high. It is just barely starting to get the right color. I cooked it another 10 minutes.
Likewise, let onions go for at least 10 minutes. They are just getting to the point of translucency. This is when I add the pineapple. But don’t go too fast at this point.
And don’t move it around too much. Just let it be. Take a look at side by side images of the pineapple. I turned these after about 5 minutes. They look beautiful and the onions continued to gain color.
You cook other ingredients too long.
Delicate herbs, thin veggies, nuts really need just a little heat to brighten their colors and get a little tender. Respect your ingredients and they will reward you with ultimate flavor.