Some rules were meant to be followed: Don’t drink and drive; say please and thank you; let your yeast dough rise until doubled.
Others? Not so much. The world won’t end if you wear white before Easter, rinse mushrooms in water or leave dirty dishes in the sink.
Five recipe rules every cook should break:
1. Salt, salt, salt: Most savory recipes call for way too much sodium. (Ina Garten, I’m talking to you.) Use a light touch, and season as you go: Rather than stir in a teaspoon of salt at the end of the cooking process, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon or so of salt over the onions as they saute or the meat as it browns. Taste at the end of cooking to see if you need to add more.
I only use kosher salt when cooking. I only use regular table salt when baking. (And when you bake, follow the rules! Use only the amount of salt that a recipe calls for.)
2. Only bake with whole milk: Two percent is fine. In a pinch, I’ve even used 2 percent milk in place of heavy cream or half-and-half when making cream-based sauces. The dish still works, and it’s less fattening.
3. Roast at super-high temperatures: My oven goes above 400 degrees for three dishes only: Pizza, holiday chicken and Thanksgiving turkey. If I followed most recipes for roasting vegetables and meats, I’d burn dinner to a crisp. For vegetables, set your oven at 400 degrees, toss veggies with a generous amount of olive oil and check their progress often. Delicate produce like asparagus and broccoli take about 10 minutes to roast. Heartier fare like fennel and cauliflower take 20 minutes. The heartiest root vegetables (potatoes; beets) take between 40 and 45 minutes to reach roasted perfection.
4. When cooking poultry, test the thickest part of the thigh for doneness: Check the thigh only, and chances are you’ll have undercooked breast meat. In all the houses I’ve lived in, in all the ovens I’ve cooked in, THE THIGH MEAT GETS DONE FIRST. (Sacrilege, I know.) Be sure to test the breast before you pull your chicken, turkey or Cornish hen out of the oven. It should read between 160 and 165 degrees. By all means, check the thickest part of the thigh afterwards. I think you’ll find that it’s done.
5. Don’t overwork your pie dough: Don’t warm it with your hands, don’t add more water than is called for … the don’ts go on and on. Here’s the real story: First, your fingers work butter into flour much more efficiently than two knives or a pastry blender. You won’t be touching the dough long enough to melt the fat. Second, I find that most pie dough recipes don’t call for nearly enough liquid. Add the amount in the recipe, tossing the dough together, then add enough extra for the pie dough to form a ball. You don’t want dry, crumb-like pieces of dough falling out around your counter or bowl; rather, you want dough that forms a neat ball and flattens easily into a disk. This is the dough that will roll into a beautiful crust.
What are the cooking rules you want to see broken?