Taste as You Cook
Something all professionals and few amateurs do. Why don't we?
When I was in cooking school, one of the last steps of getting into uniform and setting up our work stations was to take a clean teaspoon and stick it in the chest pocket of our jacket.
By the end of the long class this spoon would get used, rinsed, put back in the pocket, and then used and rinsed again. What we were taught to do with that spoon was repeatedly taste what we were cooking. Culinary school also gave me some exposure to professional kitchens and in the best ones, there is always a tray of clean teaspoons, ready to be grabbed by the chefs to taste and then taste again. Doing so is simply part of the cooking process.
I had never done this before the tough love of cooking school and I don't know why. In fact, I wouldn't even taste a dish until I took my first bite at the dinner table. Instead I would just give total trust to the recipe. If it called for a teaspoon of salt, that's what I gave it. It just didn't occur to me that had I used bouillon instead of stock, or a saltier cheese, that maybe I needed to adjust that teaspoon of salt.
Good cooking really needs your palate. You need to know how by holding back a portion of the tarragon you can give the chicken a better chance to stand out. Or how by adding one more pinch of salt, or two drops of hot sauce, or a teaspoon of lemon juice you can take a dish from fine to truly flavorful. And you won't be able to have what might be called palate judgment (I think just invented this term) unless you taste, pay attention, and taste again.
So the next time you're making a meal, even if it's a dish you've made often, put a teaspoon on the counter and taste before you finish. Or stick a clean finger into a sauce or a soup, or grab a bit of almost cooked vegetable. And then ask yourself -- is it perfect or should I do something that could be the added grace note to make the flavor go from fine to delicious?
If you get in the habit of tasting while you cook I promise your food will taste better. And you, not the recipe, will have been in complete control of that result.