AaronSanchezByMe2015

10 things I learned from ‘Chopped’s’ Aaron Sanchez

PHOTO: Celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez giving a cooking demonstration during the Housewares Show, which was at McCormick Place.  | SUE ONTIVEROS PHOTO

When I first became the Sun-Times’ Food editor, I would go to chef demonstrations and madly scribble down the recipe of whatever was being prepared.

But the longer I was in the job, the more I realized the little tidbits of advice the chefs would sprinkle throughout the demos really were valuable nuggets that should be shared.

So when I ran across chef Aaron Sanchez — who TV viewers will know from the Cooking Channel’s “Taco Trip” and Food Network’s “Chopped” — doing a demo at the International Home + Housewares Show, I decided to rest my feet for a bit (so much to see there!) and pick up some tips from him.

Here are 10 tidbits shared by Sanchez, who BTW is a very amusing and entertaining guy:

Give it 15 minutes. Take your protein (beef, chicken) out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before you are going to use it. Sanchez says it helps the muscles in the protein relax. “It needs to relax. It needs to get happy,” says the chef/partner at Paloma in Stamford, Conn., and Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Baltimore. (What, no Chicago?!)

Oil your protein. Use a bit of olive oil on your protein. This will help the seasoning adhere to it, Sanchez says.

OLIVEOIL

Put that olive oil on your protein!  |  JIM FROST~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Get a spice grinder. That way you can make your own spice mixes, he says. They’ll be fresher and taste better than any mix you have standing around for months (or years) on your spice rack.

Keep those stems. Stop throwing away cilantro stems. Lots of flavor there, Sanchez points out: “That’s the intense part of any herb.” Chop it up with the cilantro leaves.

CILANTRO

Go for quality. Use good wine when cooking. “Never cook with a wine you would not drink,” Sanchez says.

Extend pesto’s lifespan. Throw a tablet of vitamin C into pesto to keep it going longer, he advises.

PESTO

Vitamin C does good things to pesto’s lifespan.  |  CURTIS LEHMKUHL~SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Buy closed, not opened shellfish. “If it’s open, it’s no bueno,” Sanchez says.

Clean mussels easier. Soak them in salted ice water. That mixture pulls a lot of the grit off.

Freeze those shells. Say you’re having shrimp — which Sanchez recommends shelling and deveining yourself if you want the freshest version (and you do). After prepping them, don’t toss the shells. Freeze them and later put the shells, some tomato paste, chopped veggies and water together in a pan. Cook for a bit, put it through a strainer and you have a good shrimp stock.

You can cook. Don’t let Sanchez hear you say you can’t cook; it’ll irk him. Everyone can cook, he says, because all it takes is “the right equipment and the right attitude.”

AARONSANCHEZ

 Chef Aaron Sanchez says he’s not the only one who can cook. |  MIKE COPPOLA~GETTY IMAGES