One Special Secret For Making Out-Of-This-World Soups, Sauces, Casseroles

by Patti Mays - Date: 2010-09-09 - Word Count: 585 Share This!

One of my biggest passions is cooking. I love it! And please forgive me for tooting my own horn but if I do say so myself I'm quite good at it. Now mind you, I'm not a "chef" because I don't "create" new dishes but I'm a master at seeking out good recipes and making them special by adjusting ingredients and flavors for my own preferences. People tell me all the time that I'm a great cook, but the truth is - I'm actually just a great recipe follower. I'm not secretive about it either - when anyone asks me for the recipe for something I've made, I'm flattered and eager to share it.

But I ran into a bit of a problem in that it seemed that no matter how precisely I wrote a recipe, friends often told me later that the dish didn't turn out as good as when I made it. I couldn't figure it out, but in thinking through my cooking process step-by-step I finally discovered the secret. It's such a fundamental thing for me because my mother taught me this method so I assumed everybody cooked this way and I never thought to mention it in my recipes. Yet this small but important step makes all the difference in the world in creating a dish that goes from "pretty good" to "WOW! This is fabulous!"

Here's the deal. Almost all main-course recipes call for onions. For example, let's say you're making homemade vegetable soup. Most people will brown whatever meat it calls for and then cut up the onion and other vegetables and add them to the pot, then add broth or water and the called-for seasonings. That's the big mistake...

Whenever something calls for cooked onions and/or other fresh vegetables, always sauté the onions and vegetables first in a little olive oil and real butter. Do this in a separate pan from the rest of the ingredients (I use a deep skillet). Sauté until the onions are caramelized and soft and the other veggies (carrots, celery, peppers, etc.) are crisp-tender; about 15-20 minutes. Then add the vegetable mixture to the main pot.

What happens is that the flavors of the vegetables are greatly enhanced when they're sautéed separately - the caramelization process develops the flavor. With the "usual method" all ingredients are put into one pot at the same time and that wonderful vegetable flavor and aroma can't fully develop. The "sauté" step transforms all recipes with vegetables from "good" to "outstanding" and it's so simple!

Tips: Always try to purchase sweet onions for cooking (they're way more flavorful) but if they aren't available, add about 1 teaspoon sugar to regular onions as you're sautéing them. Any vegetables that are a little on the bitter side can benefit from a small amount of added sugar during the saute' process (and you can't taste the sugar in the final result).

It probably goes without saying but the "separate sauté step" does not apply to potatoes or tomatoes. Those can be added directly to the pot with the other ingredients.

I use this separate sauté method just about every single day because it seems that almost all recipes at least call for onions, if not other vegetables as well. I sauté the onions/vegetables before adding them to anything cooked - soups and stews, chili, meatloaf, crab cakes, quiches, scrambled eggs, salmon loaf, hamburgers, the works. If the recipe calls for onions or other veggies make it a given that they are sautéed separately first. The difference in flavor is truly amazing.

Patti Mays

Patti Mays is an expert cook who shares tips, recipes and ideas on her website - The upbeat site is about delicious, easy cooking using ingredients that are affordable and easy to find. She has a large following because of her unpretentious style and humorous approach.n
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