Attention to detail [moved from General Topics]
The "I can't cook" thread got me thinking about where most people go wrong when cooking, and I am forced to agree with my splendid husband, Jackp, on this topic: it is attention to detail that screws 'em up every time.
You can have the best piece of steak in the world but if you don't pay attention to it while you're grilling it, you're going to end up with steak jerky. And not very good steak jerky, either, since it probably doesn't have much seasoning on it.
You can start out making brownies and over-blend the ingredients and destroy the leavening.
You can be cooking pasta - the simplest thing in the world - but start watching television and the next thing you know, you have a pot full of starchy water with some floury worms floating around in it.
Whether it's timing, seasoning or the ingredients themselves, it's that attention to detail that makes or breaks the dish.
AFTER I have my mise en place, THEN I can open a bottle of wine. i know myself enough to see that if there is a bottle open then i will drink (all of) it. but if the mise is all there, then cooking is nothing more than throwing things at a pan in a specific order. there's an old joke: "chef" translates into french as "alcoholic"...
IMHO, detail is essential in making a successful meal, especially when it comes to advanced preparation. For instance, I study a recipe thoroughly, set up a mise place and keep a running clean. When I hear about my friend's fiascos in the kitchen it is generally caused by not planning ahead or alcohol or in some cases both alcohol and lack of planning.
Absolutely--a huge part of it is attention to detail. I am my own worst enemy in the kitchen because I insist on multi-tasking. Another part of it is experience--knowing what to expect, to be alert to warning signs, and knowing how to respond. I think I need to slow down in the kitchen... :)
I think for people who know how to cook, it can be called not paying attention to details (as AmblerGirl says). For those who just really never learned or figured out how to cook, it's simply not knowing what those details are.
Someone who's never baked brownies before isn't going to know that if they beat everything too hard they might get a flat mess. Recipes often just say "mix." If you asked, the person would probably say "Yes, I paid attention and followed the directions!" But what it really means is that they don't know enough about cooking to know how to read a recipe.
For example, when I was in high school my mom told me to "stir fry that spinach." I ended up with a dry mess because to me, vegetables should go into the wok dry. So I was very careful to dry off the vegetables before stir frying. She, having cooked for a long time, knew that the spinach would need a little moisture so she would just rinse the vegetables and throw it in the wok. I was paying plenty of attention. I was just doing the opposite of what was right.
Which is, incidentally, why cookbooks nowadays tend to be more detailed than cookbooks in the past (ex: "Mix until just barely incorporated" is a lot more descriptive than "Combine wet with dry ingredients". The writers know that people tend to need a little more help now.
I completely agree. I think I'm a pretty good cook when its just me and my husband but I usually wind up falling short whenever we host a party. I'll have an amazing menu planned and start preparing days in advance. But, once the party starts I'll have a few glasses of wine, or start chatting, then all of a sudden.. my sauce is burned, or I forget to garnish, or I screw up my timing so certain dishes are cold while others are just getting started... When its just me in the kitchen, I can completely focus on those details.