No one makes home cooking look quite as simple as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. In his own kitchen (and
throughout his many, many TV series and cookbooks), Oliver focuses on using fresh, local ingredients to create healthy, flavourful and, most importantly, easy meals. His enthusiasm makes his followers feel confident in the kitchen, his recipes serving as loose guidelines for their own fabulous skills.
Oliver’s passion for simplicity translates to totally doable advice that helps cooks take ordinary, everyday dishes to the next level. Here, a few of Oliver’s very best tips for upping your cooking skills.
1. Always have these 5 ingredients in the cupboard
In his latest cookbook, 5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food, Oliver recommends having five non-perishable flavour-boosters on hand at all times: olive oil (for cooking), extra virgin olive oil (for dressing), red-wine vinegar, sea salt and black pepper. These basics allow you to easily amp up the taste of any dish by adding tang, umami or spice.
2. If you can splurge on just one item, make it olive oil
When it comes to extra virgin olive oil, you usually get what you pay for, says Oliver. You don’t need to blow your budget, but Oliver suggests looking for a DOP label (a quality certification, meaning protected designation of origin, found on
Italian products) to know if you’re reaching for the good stuff. Paying for quality is the difference between a neutral-tasting oil and one with more nuanced grassy, peppery or fruity notes. Luckily with EVOO — because you’re not usually cooking with it, only using it to flavour your food — a little drizzle goes a long way.
3. Condiments are your secret weapon
Quality condiments and sauces are an affordable way to escape the
boredom of a regular routine and add a little international flair to whatever you’re cooking — be it veggies or a piece of fish. “You can look in your pantry,” Oliver told Chatelaine last fall. “And go, what country do I want to go to today? Do I want to go to Morocco, Spain, Thailand or France?” Oliver keeps a variety handy, including mango chutney, Worcestershire sauce and tamari, to add a quick pop of flavour to the plate. He even offers his own recipes for easy homemade mustard and mayonnaise.
4. Go old-school with a mortar and pestle
Oliver swears by the low-tech mortar and pestle for making marinades and spice rubs. It’s a super-simple tool that allows you to break down herbs and spices to release their essential oils, which you can’t do with a knife or spice grinder. For mortar and pestle newbies, Oliver recommends starting by smashing herbs and then muddling in olive oil and vinegar for a simple overnight chicken marinade. “Cook it next to a piece of plain chicken and just see the difference it makes,” says Oliver. “It has incredible flavour and tenderness.”
5. A zester is worth the space it takes up in the utensil drawer
“When life gives you lemons … zest them thoroughly and save it in the freezer,” Oliver once tweeted. “Never waste lemons, you guys!” The best way to get that zest, according to Oliver, is by using a fine grater (also known by its brand name, the Microplane). Unlike a box grater, writes Oliver, this handy gadget slices “instead of tearing or shredding, conserving the aroma and adding more flavour [to your food].” Use it to zest citrus fruit or to sprinkle Parmesan over pasta.