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7 Common Cooking Mistakes

An innocent error can easily lead to a disappointing dish―here, how to prevent overcrowded pans, recipe missteps, and more.

By Melinda Page
Pasta in a small pot on a stoveKana

Mistake #2: You Overcrowded the Pan

Covering the entire surface of a pan traps heat and creates steam. And steam, says Richard Simpson, director of education at the Institute of Culinary Education, in New York City, is an enemy of browning, which locks in flavor and juices.

What to do next time: To guard against overcrowding, use two pans or cook in batches. To prevent the first batch of food from getting cold while you cook the second, keep it on an ovenproof plate in an oven set at a low temperature (about 200° F).

Mistake #3: You Didn’t Preheat the Pan, and Your Fish Fillets Turned Out Soggy

“The cooking surface has to be hot enough to seal in the juices and brown the food,” says Tamara Murphy, owner and chef of Brasa, a restaurant in Seattle. Food also tends to stick to a pan that’s too cold, which makes it harder to sauté everything, from onions to potatoes.

What to do next time: Heat the cooking surface on high for several minutes before adding the oil. You’ll know that the pan is hot enough when a few drops of water thrown on the cooking surface skitter and evaporate quickly. Now you can add the oil. When it begins to shimmer and ripple slightly, or a few seconds later, add the meat or the fish. If you’re using a nonstick pan, put the oil in the pan before you turn on the heat, as nonstick pans may release toxins when they’re heated up empty.

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Quick Tip

Aluminum foil and plastic wrap in a drawer

The flan can be baked up to 3 days in advance; refrigerate, loosely covered with plastic wrap. Unmold just before serving.