Some old wives tales never go out of style – like “a watched pot never boils” and “you are what you eat”. Just as some old-fashioned cooking tips are still worth using in your modern kitchen. Some of these tips are aha, while others are duh, but all are still pertinent despite the fact that home kitchens have all the latest gadgets and appliances.
We polled chefs and other cooking experts for their thoughts on whether these old-school techniques still hold true today, and they all gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. Here are 15 clever and creative old-fashioned cooking tips that still hold true. Prepare to be transported back to your grandmother’s linoleum-floored kitchen. Plus, don’t miss 15 old-fashioned cooking tips you should never use, and learn how 16 stars make the best bowl of oatmeal.
This tip might be familiar, says Rebel Daughter Cookies founder Anne Grossman, but it bears repeating. “Chill the dough. If you want a thicker cake, solidify the butter before baking. In fact, try making the dough ahead of time and then freezing it and letting it thaw in the fridge overnight. Place the cookies in the cold oven. as much as possible. This gives the butter a fighting chance against the hot oven.”
A wooden spoon is softer and can mix better than a metal or plastic spoon, says Michael Cook, retired chef, food connoisseur, former owner of two restaurants, and blogger at My Conscious Eating. Neither wooden spoon conducts heat, which means you can use it to stir sauces without them heating up too quickly.
Professional chefs do it all the time, and no doubt your grandmother did too. “Keep your leftovers, then boil them in a large pot of water for a homemade vegetable broth,” says trained chef Emily Eggers of the Culinary Education Institute and owner of Legally Healthy Blonde.
The salt helps the pasta bind to the sauce for a thicker consistency. “It also dissolves and soaks into pasta to give it extra flavor. It’s not a step to miss,” says Aysegul Sanford of Foolproof Living.
“Fruit and vegetables that ripen at the same time of year taste great together,” says Kitchen Time Savers founder Clare Ivatt. Recipes that use these types of combinations will be the most successful—peppers paired with tomatoes, squash, and sweet corn, and kale and squash are all great combinations.
This classic Old World cooking technique from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region (considered the epicenter of Italian cuisine by chefs, historians and culinary travelers) is a must for home cooks. Use this tip when preparing fresh (not boxed) pasta, says chef Wendy Cacciatori, who is originally from Bologna and the owner of Miami’s Via Emilia 9 and Nonna Beppa.
In New York City. Most of his dishes have been passed down from his grandmother: tortellini en brodo, tagliatelle with bolognese sauce and hand-cut chicken breast with artichokes. “Water washes out the natural flavor of pasta,” says Wendy, “whereas stock—preferably vegetables and beef—adds considerable flavor to any pasta dish, even if you’re just serving it with fresh butter and cheese.”
Since chicken tends to dry out when cooked, this is another classic Old World tip that results in juicy chicken. “As it softens, the milk helps both soften and add moisture,” says Chef Wendy. “This also works well when cooking turkey.”
When you rinse, wash away the starch. And the sauce will not adhere well to the pasta. “Alternatively, finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, with some of the reserved pasta cooking water,” says Brian Theis, author of The Infinite Feast: How to Host the Ones You Love cookbook and chef and food blogger at The Infinite Feast . theinfinitefeast.com.
Rely on your senses as you cook – for smell, color, texture, taste – not just the recipe. “And always taste as you go,” says Theis.
“A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife,” says Theis.
If you are cooking beef or lamb, brown it in a pan before putting it in the oven to the desired temperature. “It will seal in the flavor and make sure that when the juices flow, they add flavor instead of being lost,” says Christina Russo, co-founder of The Kitchen Community. It’s a tip she collected from her grandmother, she says.
When cooking a casserole or stew in a pot, as long as there is enough liquid, the longer you cook it at a lower temperature, the better it will taste. “Long, low and slow was a rule my grandmother swore by, and it’s one I follow,” says The Kitchen Community’s Russo.
This is an old-fashioned cooking tip that brings back childhood memories from Top Chef 18 and 2022 James Beard semifinalist Chris Viaud. As a child, Viaud helped his Haitian mother prepare dinner every night, grinding herbs and spices in a pestle or mortar. He still uses this technique in preparing Ansanm Sunday Dinners at Greenleaf, his restaurant in Milford, New Hampshire.
Read the entire recipe before you begin. “Rushing through a recipe only increases your chances of messing things up, like skipping a step or using the wrong measurement,” says Lori Bogedin, chef/owner of Twigs Cafe.
Ask your fishmonger for fish cuts, which are the parts of the fish left after they have been filleted. “Homemade fish stock has delicate flavors and aromas that can’t be replicated in canned or supermarket boxes,” says author Craig Fear. New England Soups from the Sea.