Last Saturday night, I was having friends over for a happy hour cocktail and a snack. I decided to make the crispy chicken skin appetizer in my blog that I’ve made many times and is a fan favorite along with petite avocado toasts. I planned to serve these with rose sparkling wine. Perfect for summer, if I do say so myself. I had no idea that I was about to encounter cooking mistakes that would blow away my plans – the ultimate constraint!
Everything was going great. I made the peanut salad and had the chicken skins in the oven. Suddenly, I smelled burning chicken. I ran to the oven and found that the chicken skin had burned and was not usable. And this was less than 1 hour before my guests arrived!
I freaked out for a couple minutes, then made myself calm down. I could not salvage the chicken, so I had to think quickly about what else I could do. I started to go down the path of putting the peanuts in little lettuce cups, but I decided against it because the gems that I had were not cup-like enough. I thought about sauteeing garlic shrimp and replacing it for the chicken skin. I tried one as a test and didn’t like the combination. Time keeps counting down….
Suddenly, I remembered a can of smoked trout in the pantry. I changed my plating to serve the peanut salad on Chinese spoons and placed small pieces of smoked trout on the top. When I tasted it, I was blown away. It’s better than the original recipe!
My guests arrived and everyone loved the peanut salad with trout. I did not have enough! They also paired beautifully with the avocado toasts and the bubbly. I was so relieved!
Cooking mistakes happen – even to chefs.I’ve made the crispy chicken skin many times – I know how to make them but this time I just got too busy and distracted. It happens because this is life! The trick is knowing how to recover from it.
I admit that having lots of experience helps tremendously. Not everyone has tons of culinary experience but everyone can recover from cooking mistakes, regardless of how much time you’ve spent cooking. I am here to teach techniques to navigate the constraints that you face and I want to share the keys to bouncing back from a cooking mistake:
- Calm down. When you make an unrecoverable mistake, you have a tendency to stress out. Even I did this initially when it happened to me, but I made myself calm down and think clearly.
- Be creative. What else do you have in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer that you can substitute?
- Do a quick test and taste. As I did with the shrimp, test one and see if it works. That way, you haven’t cooked a whole batch of something that doesn’t work.
- It’s not a bad idea to always have back ups at hand. I could have pulled some prosciutto from my refrigerator and wrapped it around a fresh melon if the peanut salad was not salvageable.
- Make something else that is fast and easy. Grill up some crostini with tomatoes or peppers on top and shave some parmesan as a garnish. It’s not always necessary to be completely done when your guests arrive. They can hang out with you while you grill crostini and they’d never know you had something else planned.
- Honesty is the best policy. If you can’t recover in time, just admit it to your guests. Real and honest is always good. If you have to break out a wheel of brie and crackers, you can all have a good laugh about your trials and tribulations.
Remember, the people are coming over to spend time with YOU – not to critique your cooking. Don’t let a kitchen mishap ruin your evening. In my case, we had so much fun that I ended up cooking some padron peppers to compliment our snacks since no one wanted to stop. And, I came up with a great, original recipe that I will make again. All was not lost and I got a chance to test my recovery skills!