Martha Stewart's Ultimate Cooking Hacks!

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned chef, the trick to knocking out a great meal is perfecting the basics. Here, we share Martha Stewart’s secrets that will turn your meals from mediocre to amazing!

For full recipes and How To's on all the tips below, be sure to tune into Martha Stewart’s Cooking School on LifeStyle FOOD.

1. Splendid pan-seared steak

Searing is the technique of using high heat to seal in the juices by forming a delicious crust. It can be used on all kinds of meat, but is particularly useful for cooking a tender, juicy, and very delicious pan-seared steak. Your family is going to think they went to the very best steak restaurant with these tips!

Let’s get started…

  • Make sure the meat is room temperature - bring it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you're going to cook.
  • Ideally, use a cast iron pan because they heat evenly.
  • The pan should be really hot - you know your pan is hot enough if you throw a drop of water on it and it sizzles, but it shouldn’t smoke.
  • Bring it out of the refrigerator about an hour before you're going to cook.  And dry the meat very well with paper-toweling before you start to cook - the reason that you dry the meat is because we do not want to steam the meat -- we want to sear it.
  • Put a tablespoon of butter for each steak – this will help the caramelisation of the surface of the meat.
  • It's tempting to move, poke and press the steak as it’s cooking, but this will cause the juices to leech, so it’s best to use tongs.    
  • Turn the steak once, doing about four minutes on each side and the trick to getting your steak done perfectly is an instant-read meat thermometer.  If you insert it into the middle of that cut of steak, 52 degrees to 55 for rare, 60 degrees for medium-rare, and 65 for medium.

2. Sensational seared salmon

A beautiful piece of salmon deserves really nice treatment in the pan. And salmon cooked with the skin on will get crispy and delicious.

Let’s get started…

  • Always season your salmon generously with coarse salt before putting in the pan. And its very important you dry it also. 
  • Put the salmon skin-side down over a medium-to-high heat to make sure that it has enough time to brown and crisp – it should take about five minutes.
  • When searing a piece of fish or meat that's thick, it's best to finish it in a 180 degree preheated oven to ensure that it cooks evenly. 
  • A trick to seeing if the fish is done is insert the knife into the center and feel if it's warm.

3. The finest French fries

Frying has a bad rap, but when it’s properly done, fried foods should not be heavy or greasy. Don’t buy the store bought frozen packets - here are the tricks to getting beautiful, light fluffy golden brown fries.

Let’s get started…

  • For fries that are crispy on the outside and slightly soft on the inside, the secret is a good, dry potato.
  • Put your peeled potatoes immediately into ice water because soaking the potatoes will remove the starch. Refrigerating them will actually make the final product crispier so aim for four hours to overnight. 
  • Put them in fresh, clean water before drying them thoroughly. Then slice your potatoes into wedges or strips.
  • For best results you need to cook them twice -- in a deep fryer or in a pot on top of the stove. 
  • Use a neutral oil, one that has a very high smoking point such as soybean oil or canola oil, and don’t crowd the pot.   
  • After frying, drain them well on paper toweling and while they're hot, salt them with kosher salt and serve them to your family as a special treat.

4. Beautiful braising

Pot roast was born out of frugality. It was a dish made with inexpensive cuts of meat and basic root vegetables cooked together in the same pot. When it comes to braising, the best cuts of meat to use are generally the most flavourful. And they come from the harder-worked muscle groups -- the leg, the shoulder, and the neck areas -- of the animal. Best of all, these cuts of meat are usually the cheapest. 

Let’s get started…

  • Pre-seasoning is a really important part of the process so rub a little salt and pepper all over your meat. 
  • Before you do a pot roast, brown the meat in a little bit of olive oil right in the pot in which you’re going to make the pot roast.  You can't brown meat in liquid.  Even in the oven, it just won't brown if there's any moisture whatsoever. 
  • Make sure the pot is quite hot - you're going to hear a lot of sizzling.
  • Don't try to turn the meat until it easily releases.
  • You can add whatever you like - onions thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, peeled carrots, celery...
  • To make the gravy, add one tablespoon of flour that allows the liquid to be absorbed and the sauce to thicken. You can also add about 1 and ¼ cups of water and two tablespoons of red-wine vinegar for a little bit of acidity. 
  • It's important to let the meat rest for about 10 or 15 minutes because if you try to slice it when it's really, really hot; it may just completely fall apart.
  • The meat has reached the right consistency when it is silky, can be shredded easily, and the meat should be very, very tender, but firm enough just to slice.

5. Make your salad sing

Nothing is better than a good homemade vinaigrette. There is no need to go out and buy jarred salad dressings when you can make vinaigrettes so very easily in your own kitchen.

Let’s get started…

  • Vinaigrettes are infinitely variable. You can experiment with different oils, such as grapeseed oil, olive oil, canola oil, hazelnut oil, walnut oil. You can also experiment with different kinds of acids -- champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, rice-wine vinegar, red-wine vinegar, and white or red balsamic vinegar.
  • For such a simple preparation it's vital to use the very, very best ingredients, because there are only five or six ingredients, including salt and pepper, in a vinaigrette.
  • Start first with a tablespoon or two of the acid, such as white balsamic or lemon.
  • Add half a teaspoon of salt, and mix together.
  • And about a half tablespoon of Dijon mustard, some black pepper, and one shallot that's been very finely minced.
  • Just start drizzling in a steady stream, and this vinegar in the bowl will become emulsified in the oil. If you dump it in at once, it will take a lot longer to emulsify.
  • Whisk vigorously until you see a visible thickening take place.
  • These could be done in a blender, which would last longer than those made with a whisk or a jar.
  • Wash your salad well and spin it dry. If the salad is wet, it will not take the dressing.
  • The quickest way to ruin a good salad is to add too much dressing or dressing it way too long before serving.
  • And don’t dress it too early - salads are best tossed right before serving.

6. Wonderful white rice

Grains are everyday staples that we all have in our pantry, and the most common grain of all is rice.  Here is the classic stovetop method to ensure you always have light, fluffy rice.

Let’s get started…

  • First wash the grains. This is an essential step, you want to remove all that starch if you want a really light and fluffy rice.
  • Melt a tablespoon of butter in a pot and half a teaspoon of salt and bring that to a boil
  • Add your cup of water and once that has come to the boil, add one cup of rice. Stir. Bring it to a boil again. Once it comes to a boil, reduce it to a simmer.
  • Cover and set your timer 16 minutes. Be sure to leave the lid on while cooking to trap as much steam as possible.
  • Check only toward the end of the recommended time.
  • Drain the rice well, and shake out the excess moisture.
  • Now, just fluff it with a fork and serve, adding a bit of butter, salt and pepper if you wish.

7. Heavenly hard-boiled eggs

Eggs are among the simplest and most versatile ingredients in the kitchen. Hard boiled eggs can be used in a variety of dishes – but there are a few tricks you can use to make sure they’re always cooked to perfection.

Let’s get started…

  • Always start with room temperature eggs – if they’ve been in the refrigerator, take them out an hour before you cook them.
  • Carefully, without cracking the shells, put your eggs into cold water in a deep saucepan. Don't crowd them. 
  • Bring water to a boil. And once it comes to a boil, turn the flame off. Eggs should never actually be boiled for any length of time or they will turn rubbery and dry. 
  • Put your timer on for 13 minutes. 
  • Roll the egg a little bit just to make sure that the yolks are suspended evenly in the shell. 
  • Immerse your eggs immediately in ice water so that they cool off and the cooking process stops. 
  • To remove the shells, start at the broad end of the egg, which is generally where the air pocket in the egg is. Older eggs are easier to shell than freshly laid eggs because very fresh eggs have a smaller air sac in them. 
  • With the back of a spoon, crack the shell. Once you find the little air sac, the eggs are easier to peel. 
  • Gently, with the side of your thumb, start peeling the egg. You're loosening the membrane with the shell from the nice, shiny, cooked egg inside. 
  • Hard-boiled eggs in the shell will stay for up to five days in the refrigerator. 
  • If you're going to peel them, use them as soon as possible. 
  • Chop it up and make your favorite egg salad recipe. 

8. Perfectly poached eggs

If perfect poached eggs have always eluded you, here is what you need to know to make sure they’re perfect every time.

Let’s get started...

  • The water has to be boiling rapidly. The boil helps as well to help the eggs to coagulate as fast as possible. And the movement of the boil helps to create the nice shape of the egg.
  • Adding vinegar definitely helps to coagulate the white as well. Use the less expensive stuff, because you're going to discard the liquid. Use approximately 1/4 cup of vinegar.
  • Don't add salt to your poaching liquid. It causes the egg whites to break.
  • More vinegar you put, more it's going to help to stick the white together.
  • Use eggs that are a couple days old. The fresher the egg is, more difficult it is to poach because the white is not completely surrounding the yellow now. 
  • If you roll them over, it really does help keep their shape. Keep them in there for a minute to a minute and a half.
  • Have a bowl of iced water with a strainer set in the ice, because you're going to immediately put those eggs into there.
  • Drain them well, and serve on toast, or on top of a salad.

Tune into Martha Stewart’s Cooking School Tuesdays at 7.00pm on LifeStyle FOOD.

Do you have any secret cooking tips to perfecting the basics? Share them below!

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