Choosing your ingredients

Nov 30, 2017 | Cooking Tips

Be picky

There are some hard and fast rules to buying ingredients. They differ from produce, proteins, cans, dry goods, etc., but they have one main thing in common, it is not always best to buy the most expensive or the least expensive ingredients. Pay attention to what you are buying. Read labels, smell fruits and vegetables. Think of the season. These things are important.

Below is my beginners guide to buying food.

Produce

Before I say anything else about buying produce I need to say this. Buy local when you can. Buy seasonal always. If you want something and it’s not in season, buy it frozen.

Buying local produce supports your local economy. It is better for the environment and the food is generally more nutritious and flavourful. Buying in season means that you buy things when they grow naturally. When something is in season it taste way better than when it’s not. Buying frozen vegetables out of season is actually usually better than buying the franken-fruit at the grocery store. The frozen stuff was picked at it’s peak and frozen immediately. It is more nutritious and flavourful than fresh fruit and vegetables bought out of season.

Don’t buy Lettuce that is already turning brown. This seems pretty obvious right? You would be surprised. If you are going to buy mixed greens in a plastic container pick it up and look at the bottom. Is there rotten greens clinging to the bottom of the container? Is there a lot of moisture? Don’t buy it. It will go rotten very quickly.

Tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables should be firm to the touch. The skin should be tight. If you rub your finger over it you should not feel the skin roll. It should also smell like a tomato, or an apple, or a pepper where the stem comes out.

Misshapen produce is fine and sometimes cheaper, but don’t buy produce that looks sad or rotten. It probably is. Usually, if there are hints of rot on the surface, there is a lot more inside.

Protein
Meat, fish, and chicken

Check the dates.
Sales are fine but discounts, not so much.

Meat should not be grey and green.
Cheap cuts require a little more work but are usually more flavourful and cost you less. Don’t buy pre-cubed stewing beef. This is usually beef that is about to expire. It takes no time and is not difficult to buy a chunk of meat and cut it up. This goes for strips as well.

Boneless, skinless chicken breast is a rip off. Plain and simple. It is really easy to pull the skin off a chicken breast if you really must, and it is way cheaper. Also, chicken (as well as beef, pork, lamb, or fish) cooked on the bone has way more flavour and stays juicer.

Learn how to break down a whole chicken. Once you do it a few times it will only take five minutes then you get two legs, two breasts, two thighs, and two wings for the price of two boneless skinless chicken breasts. Plus if you want you can make soup or stock with the carcass.

Pork is versatile, flavourful, cheap, and delicious. Pork chops are easy to cook and can be paired with almost anything. The thicker the better. Pork shoulder or butt roast is cheap and forgiving. It takes a lot to overcook it. This is what you should use for pulled pork.

Fish. Buy it at the fish counter. Ask them to clean it for you. Avoid “fresh” packaged fish when possible. This again, is often fish that is going off. If it smells fishy avoid it. If you are buying a whole fish make sure it’s eyes are clear not cloudy.

Cans

Don’t buy dented cans.
Don’t buy canned vegetables…except canned corn. Corn holds up in a can, peas do not.
That is all.

Frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables are cool. They are cheap, they last a long time, they are nutritious, and easy to prepare.

If something doesn’t look right don’t buy it. If something doesn’t look like something you want to eat, don’t buy it. Choose what to spend your money on wisely. You worked hard for it, don’t just throw it away.

 

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you soon.

Chef Ben

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