Some old wives’ tales never go out of style – like “a watched pot never boils” and “you are what you eat”. Just like some old fashioned cooking tips are still worth using in your modern kitchen. Some of these tips are aha, while others are a must – but all are still relevant 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 up today, and they all gave an enthusiastic thumbs up. Here are 15 clever and creative old-fashioned cooking tips that still work. Get ready to step back into your grandmother’s kitchen with linoleum. Plus, don’t miss 15 old-fashioned cooking tips you should never use, and find out how 16 celebrities make the ultimate bowl of oatmeal.
This tip may be familiar, says Ann Grossman, founder of Rebel Daughter Cookies, but it’s worth repeating. “Chill this dough. If you want a thicker cookie, harden the butter before baking. In fact, try shaping the dough ahead of time and then freezing it and letting it thaw in the fridge overnight. Place the cookies in the oven until they are as cold as possible. This gives the butter a chance to fight the hot oven.”
A wooden spoon is softer and can stir 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. The wooden spoon also doesn’t conduct heat, meaning 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 simmer them in a large pot of water for homemade vegetable broth,” says Emily Eggers, a Culinary Education Institute-trained chef and owner of Legally Healthy Blonde.
The salt helps the pasta bind with the sauce for a thicker consistency. “It also dissolves and absorbs into the pasta to give it extra flavor. Not a single step to miss,” says Aysegul Sanford of Foolproof Living.
“Fruit and vegetables that ripen at the same time of year taste great together,” says Claire Ivatt, founder of Kitchen Time Savers. Recipes that use these types of combinations will be most successful—peppers combined with tomatoes, squash, and sweet corn, as well as cabbage and squash are 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-have for home cooks. Use this tip when making fresh (not boxed) pasta, says chef Wendy Cacciatori, who hails from Bologna and owns Miami’s Via Emilia 9 and Nonna Beppa.
In New York. Most of his dishes were handed down from his grandmother: tortellini en brodo, tagliatelle with bolognese sauce, and hand-cut chicken breast with artichoke. “Water washes out the natural flavor of pasta,” says Wendy, “whereas stock—preferably vegetable and beef—adds significant flavor to any pasta dish, even if you’re just serving 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 soaks, the milk helps both soften it and add moisture,” says Chef Wendy. “This also works well when cooking turkey.”
When you rinse, you wash away the starches. And the sauce won’t stick 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 cookbook The Endless Feast: How to Host Those We Love and executive 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 try as you go,” says Theis.
“A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one,” 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 ensure 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 got 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 tastier it will be. “Long, low and slow was a rule my grandmother swore by, and I still follow it,” says Russo of The Kitchen Community.
It’s an old-fashioned cooking tip that evokes childhood memories of Top Chef 18 and 2022 James Beard semi-finalist Chris Vio. As a child, Vio helped his Haitian mother prepare dinner every night by grinding herbs and spices in a pestle or mortar . He still uses this technique in preparing his 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 about fish trimmings, which are the leftover fish after they’ve been filleted. “Homemade fish stock has delicate aromas and flavors that cannot be imitated in canned or packaged supermarket stocks,” says Craig Fair, author of New England soups from the sea.