In cooking, as in life, it’s often the simplest of tasks that trouble us the most. Continually stirring or flipping the food you are cooking is a perfect example. Food truck chefs, beginners and experienced alike commonly stand over a pan and stir and stir and stir or flip and re-flip and flip again and again, over and over and over.
This is usually not done because a recipe has indicated this as part of the task list. It’s usually the result of a nervous cook who feels like even though the hot pan or grill is perfectly capable of cooking the food with minimal supervision, they have to move the food around constantly in order to feel busy.
Cut it out!
Put the spatula, wooden spoon, tongs, or whatever you’re working with down and step away from the food. This doesn’t give you license to leave the kitchen, you still need to watch the food.
Consider this – your food cooks by coming into contact with a hot pan or grill. The heat from the pan or grill is transferred to the food through direct contact. The food has to reach a certain temperature (depending on what you’re cooking) in order to reach “doneness”. Every time you stir or flip the food, it loses contact with the pan and has to start the heating process all over again. So by over-tending, you’re actually extending your cooking time and you run the risk of altering the food’s texture and color by moving it around too much.
Some foods do require constant attention and your recipe should indicate that (stir constantly or continuously). It should also give you a timetable for stirring or flipping: Stir occasionally or frequently. Cook for 2 minutes, then turn. Of course the occasional stir is necessary to keep food from sticking and to make sure all sides are evenly cooked. When in doubt, it’s best to put the food into a hot pan and then…wait for it, wait for it…let it cook.