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From using the right salt to eating like a prince on a pauper’s budget, these are the cooking tips Nagi Maehashi would share if she spent a day in your kitchen.

Nagi Maehashi

I have been labelled obsessive on more than one occasion. In the years I’ve spent running my website, RecipeTin Eats, I’ve been known to test individual recipes more than 50 times. If someone is going out to buy ingredients for one of my dishes, I have to know that their money won’t be wasted. So, you could say that my sense of what does and does not work in a kitchen is well honed.

If I could come and cook with you in your kitchen for a day, here are the top 10 tips I would share with you, just one home cook to another, based on what I have learned sending thousands of recipes into the world.

Nagi Maehashi with her dog Dozer and new book Tonight, which will be out on October 15.
Nagi Maehashi with her dog Dozer and new book Tonight, which will be out on October 15.James Brickwood

1. You don’t need to be rich to eat like a king

I know this to be true because growing up, money was tight. But we dined like royalty because my mother knew how to make great food on a budget. I took those lessons into my adult life as I moved out of home and into the world of cooking for myself aged 18, earning a wage of just $16,000 a year.

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I learned how to make luxurious ragus from cheap cuts of meat, French sauces such as bearnaise and beurre noisette citron (lemon brown butter), souffles, tarts and all sorts of other dishes you find at fine-dining restaurants. All these recipes are economical to make because they use flour, butter, eggs, milk and other basic ingredients.

To stretch your budget, build your repertoire around canned tomatoes, in-season vegetables, mince and secondary meat cuts that welcome slow-cooking, such as chuck, skirt, shin and brisket.

Each type of salt has its own characteristics and measurements.
Each type of salt has its own characteristics and measurements.iStock

2. Use the right salt

Salt is one of the most common causes of recipe fails and disappointments because not all salt is created equal. Not enough salt equals bland. Too much salt equals inedible.

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There are so many types of salt on supermarket shelves, from black and pink Himalayan to home-brand rock salt but the three most common types are table salt, cooking salt and sea salt flakes.

Salt ratios

The crucial thing to know is:

¾ tsp table salt =

1 tsp cooking salt =

1½ tsp sea salt flakes

Most chefs use sea salt flakes. So if a recipe written by a chef calls for 1 teaspoon of sea salt flakes, and you use 1 teaspoon of table salt, your food will likely be inedibly salty because you’ve used twice as much salt as the recipe required.

If a recipe does not specify the type of salt, or you are unsure, use half the amount called for because you can always add more at the end.

My go-to is cooking salt, and my recipes always specifically call for it. It is cheaper than sea salt flakes and more practical than table salt, which is too fine to sprinkle evenly when seasoning, say, a steak.

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The correct tablespoon measure can dictate whether a baking recipe, like RecipeTin’s vanilla cake, succeeds or fails.
The correct tablespoon measure can dictate whether a baking recipe, like RecipeTin’s vanilla cake, succeeds or fails.Nagi Maehashi

3. Aussie tablespoons are the most common cause of baking fails

NEWSFLASH: The standard Aussie tablespoon measures 20 millilitres, whereas in most of the world, it’s 15ml. While that 5ml discrepancy isn’t enough to cause problems with all recipes, for others, particularly cakes, cookies, gravies, soups, and stews thickened with flour, it can be the difference between success and an epic fail.

To make matters more complicated, 15ml tablespoons are becoming more widely available in Australian shops, so in kitchen drawers across the land, you might find a mixture of 15ml and 20ml tablespoons.

If you’ve ever used a recipe from someone living outside Australia and your cookie was a disaster, or your gravy ended up a lumpy mess, that’s a likely cause.

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Assume a recipe from a non-Australian author uses 15ml tablespoons. If it is an Australian author, however, check the book’s introduction or recipe notes about whether they’ve used 15ml or 20ml tablespoons. If there isn’t one, I assume they’re 20ml tablespoons. But if it is a baking recipe and you’re not an experienced baker, it may not be worth the risk because using the wrong measurement can be the difference between a baking project and a hot mess.

I test recipes using both 15ml and 20ml tablespoons to ensure they work, no matter which one you use. And where absolute precision is required, I specify the measurements in teaspoons rather than tablespoons because teaspoon measurements around the world are 5ml.

4. The one kitchen appliance everyone should have

A stick blender. Because it can do most things food processors and blenders can do and many things they can’t. Plus, they require much less storage space and are much easier to wash up!

Think beyond blitzing soup in pots. Use the stick blender for smoothies, curry pastes, sauces (excellent for mayonnaise), pesto and purees. And with a whisk attachment, you can also whip cream and make cake batters.

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As I said – it can do almost anything!

RecipeTin Eats’ speedy Xinjiang cumin lamb can be on the table in half an hour.
RecipeTin Eats’ speedy Xinjiang cumin lamb can be on the table in half an hour.Rob Palmer STYLING: Emma Knowles

5. Respect authenticity, but don’t get too hung up on the rules

If you intend to make an authentic pho and declare it loudly (on, say, a recipe website for everyone in the world to see), then yes, respect authenticity and tradition.

But for everyday cooking, especially at home, you don’t need to get too hung up. If the dish tastes good and is do-able in your kitchen with the time you have, within your budget and your cooking skills, then so what if you veer from strictly authentic?

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Many of my Good Food SOS recipes, including French cassoulet soup, 30-minute chicken pot pie, and quick Xinjiang cumin lamb, use cheeky shortcuts and simple hacks so busy readers can get them on the table quickly, easily and without spending a fortune. I don’t claim they’re authentic, but I can promise they’re delicious.

Kuhn Rikon’s Easy Clean Peeler.
Kuhn Rikon’s Easy Clean Peeler. Kuhn Rikon

6. You’ve been using the wrong vegetable peeler all your life

Whenever I see those straight-edge peelers, I want to throw them out the window. They are ridiculously inefficient to use. Get a Y-peeler (the one shaped like a slingshot). You can peel faster, with much less frustration. Swiss-made Kuhn Rikon peelers, which sell for between $6 to $8 each, are fairly well-accepted as the industry’s best.

Lamb shanks in red wine sauce.
Lamb shanks in red wine sauce.RecipeTin Eats
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7. Don’t waste your money on expensive wine for cooking

It’s pretty well-tested and documented that you do not need to use expensive wine for cooking. It’s especially a waste of money in slow-cooked recipes. Dig into those discount bins at your local liquor store. I cap my budget at $5 for a bottle.

My one exception to this rule is sauce au vin rouge (red wine sauce) and similar sauces that rely so heavily on the flavour of the red wine itself. I will invest in a good wine for that.

8. You can save any dish with these four great flavour boosters

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Loaded with umami (the technical term for savouriness in cooking), grated parmesan, finely chopped anchovies, fish sauce, and crispy chilli oil are four great flavour-boosters that can save just about any dish you feel is lacking in flavour.

Stir, dollop or drizzle in as much or as little as you like, and don’t feel restricted by geography. Go global! Add Asian chilli crisp to a pasta dish, anchovies to a prawn chowder, or grate parmesan over your enchiladas. You have my permission.

9. Vegemite does not belong in the fridge

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Firstly, it doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge even once opened. Save valuable fridge space for more important things, like cheese and wine!

Secondly, who wants to spread rock-hard-ice-cold Vegemite on soft white bread?

Here are a few things you might not realise do belong in the fridge, though: containers of instant yeast, hoisin and oyster sauce, and definitely tomato sauce!

Nagi Maehashi with pages from her upcoming cookbook.
Nagi Maehashi with pages from her upcoming cookbook.James Brickwood
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10. My second cookbook is due out in October – and can be pre-ordered from today

The second cookbook from Nagi Maehashi, owner of RecipeTin Eats, due for release in mid-October.
The second cookbook from Nagi Maehashi, owner of RecipeTin Eats, due for release in mid-October.Macmillan Australia

Every home cook in Australia definitely needs to know that! Dinner was my first cookbook and has sold 500,000 copies and counting.

My second, Tonight, will be released into the world on October 15. You can pre-order it at recipetineats.com. In the meantime, here’s the first sneak peek, only for Good Food readers.

Tonight by Nagi Maehashi will be published by Macmillan Australia on October 15, 2024. RRP $49.99

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Nagi MaehashiRecipeTin Eats aka Nagi Maehashi is a Good Food columnist, bestselling cookbook and recipe writer.

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