I recently emailed a friend who, like most of us, has spent more time cooking from home in the past two years than in his entire life. Thanks to some food kit services and tons of YouTube tutorials, his culinary skills have vastly improved (from “takeout every night to being able to hold a knife,” as he put it). But he emailed me this question the other day: “Hey! Why do restaurant meals always taste better than what I make at home? I feel like there must be some simple tricks I’m missing.”
I briefed him on the basics. There’s the now-infamous Anthony Bourdain part, delivered on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” about how butter “tends to come first and last in … almost every pan, actually.”
“That’s why restaurant food tastes better than home-cooked food,” he continued. “Of course, most things are buttered because butter makes things taste better. Yes, it’s a chef’s secret. It softens sauces, gives the restaurant shine and emulsified consistency that we love. you know, it’s classic. ”
RELATED: Bacon Coffee and Pasta Pie: A Look at Your Favorite Quick and Dirty Recipes of 2021
I submitted a video of MAD 2012, a symposium hosted by René Redzepi, in which David Chang discusses the (mostly racist) smear of MSG and how the “umami” taste is tested in many restaurant dishes, even those that They are found in fine dining restaurants. – is often derived from him.
So more butter, more MSG, what else? “How often do you think about the texture of your food?” I asked. “Uh … almost never,” my friend replied. “Well let’s change that in the New Years,” I wrote.
I think the idea of contrasting textures is one that often seems second nature; If you were, for example, planning a dinner party, you might be like, “Oh hey, I need some crunchiness” if you were pretending to serve meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
Want more great recipes and culinary copywriting? Subscribe to “The Bite”, Salon Food’s newsletter.
But the importance of plate level didn’t really hold up for me until a few years ago. I was at a small Italian restaurant in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC and ordered a ricotta-filled agnolotti with mint pesto.
The plate was beautiful. The pasta had a pillow, the ricotta was superbly fresh, and the pesto had a wintergreen and allium punch that I’ve tried many times to recreate at home. However, what really pushed it to the limit were the roasted and salty pistachios that coated the pasta. With them in the mix, all the other elements seemed to shine a lot brighter, and the interplay in each bite between the soft and crisp bits was sublime.
I make pasta all the time at home and thought I was doing it “right”, diligently making sure to keep my pasta al dente and reserve the water for a shiny, slick sauce. However, when I think of pasta from my favorite restaurant, there tended to be one thing in common: that extra crunch.
The best bucatini he had ever eaten was topped with rabbit ragout and freshly torn and toasted pieces of bread. One of my favorite aglio e olios had thicker crumbs, but just as crunchy. The restaurant dishes I found myself choosing came with pine nuts or pumpkin seeds or, as in the case of that angelotti, crushed pistachios.
Once you start looking for texture contrast in a menu, it’s everywhere from salads with crunchy chickpeas to tomato soup with cornbread croutons. There are chocolate cakes with crunchy cocoa nibs and sandwiches cooked on the grill until crisp and then stacked with a layer of teapot chips.
All of this to say, if you want to take your home cooking to the next level next year, start stocking your pantry with easy items you can grab to add some texture to your plate. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
- Panko bread crumbs: Toast and season to add to pasta dishes or vegetable gratins.
- Walnuts: Top cereal bowls, casseroles, and curries with peanuts or cashews; Season and bake some pecans or walnuts to mix with the ice cream.
- Seed and spice mixes: All bagel seasoning adds a nice touch to everything from avocado to eggs, as does dukka or duqqa, an Egyptian seasoning consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts, and spices.
- Tortilla strips: Add these to taco salads, tortilla soups, or chili peppers.
- Shredded fries: Toss them into a potato salad for a welcome crunchy touch, use as a topping for a casserole (I swear, it’s that good!), Or as a layer on a sub-sandwich.
- Chickpeas or peas: Look in your grocery store’s snack aisle for crispy chickpeas or wasabi peas. They make an ideal garnish for salads or cereal bowls.
- Chives and pickled vegetables: Look in your refrigerator for some crunchy vegetables or alliums, such as giardiniera, kimchi, pickled vegetables, or chives, and use them to complete your daily meals.
Some of our favorite shortcut recipes: