Spice Up Your Cooking Skills With These Easy Tips from ‘Top Chef’ Winner Kristen Kish
If there’s anyone who knows how to season food with precision it’s Top Chef winner Kristen Kish. She teamed up with McCormick spices to forecast what flavors diners can expect to see more of in the restaurant world this year. She is dubbing her pick Mexicana Vegana Cocina (aka vegan Mexican), and she anticipates we’ll see more cacti, chili peppers, achiote (a Mayan blend of spices), and mole (a sauce made of nuts, chocolate, spices, and chili peppers) more readily available in the coming months. Though we are all for those flavors, we picked her mind on more basic kitchen essentials that you can easily recreate at home.
Brit + Co: Let’s start with a basic. What’s the best way to cook and season potatoes?
Kristen Kish: One of my most favorite ways to cook potatoes is braising them, because they have a chance to soak up any flavor. They are like sponges. I love to braise them with pancetta, roasted chicken stock, toasted sage, thyme, a little bit of butter. You hit it with a little bit of lemon juice at the end. It just soaks in all this richness, and all these lovely salty notes.
B+C: Aside from salt and pepper, what spice do you reach for the most, and what do you put it on?
KK: My sous chef actually started using a lot of smoked paprika. It has a really nice, back-end, round flavor and adds just a little pop. It’s really fun to play with.
B+C: Which herbs are best dried and which are best fresh? What’s the difference in terms of flavor?
KK: Fresh herbs can be used to finish and add brightness. Think of parsley or rosemary. Dried spices are more sturdy, have more structure, holds up and can take on a longer cooking time. It really is just a deeper flavor as opposed to this very bright prominent flavor with fresh herbs. For me, I love dried oregano and dried dill. We see it a lot of times in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. Greek salads always have dried oregano and dried mint in them. Every single restaurant in Greece serves greek potatoes with a little sprinkle of dried oregano. It melts in with a beautiful olive oil.
B+C: What is your favorite summer vegetable and how do you cook it?
B+C: What do you think most home cooks should learn how to grill? And how do you make it?
KK: There are two things. Learn how to grill a scallion whole, with a little bit of oil, and then just char it. It takes zero time at all, and scallions are wonderfully accessible. People also need to learn how to actually grill a piece of meat. The problem is people put too much fat on the meat because they don’t want it to stick on the grill. Instead, you want to brush the grill, no matter what you’re cooking and not brush the meat.
B+C: Do you ever cook with a slow cooker? If yes, what do you make and how do you make it?
KK: I don’t, but I have a love affair with a Crock-Pot that I haven’t participated fully yet. But at the end of the day, it’s low braising. It all stems from the proper cooking technique of low and slow. I would make a pulled pork. You rub that pork shoulder with a bunch of spices, a little garlic, a little black pepper. Put that lid on and let it hang out, and then you just pull it. Or you can grind it up and make a bolognese sauce or throw it on a sandwich and call it a day. It’s completely versatile.
(Photos via McCormick’s and Denise Truscello/Getty)