Cooking Techniques You Should Know by Now
Learning to cook is a scary idea for a lot of people, but like anything, if you try to go from zero to expert, it can be daunting. Instead, think of it as being a lot of little lessons learned one at a time, one recipe at a time. To get started, here are five skills every home cook should know:
1. Master basic knife work
Knife work can be intimidating, but all you have to do is remember your shapes. All vegetables can be chopped by breaking them down from one shape into another. A cucumber is a good example. Start by peeling it and cutting it cross-wise into segments roughly the length of your knife. Cut each segment lengthwise to create “planks” and chop them down into “batons.” Dice the batons by gathering them together and turning them 90 degrees so they are facing left-right. Keeping your knife point on the cutting board, feed the cucumber batons into your knife as you chop, cutting them to the size you want. This is called a dice or, in the classic French, a “brunoise.” Use the cucumbers in a cucumber salad or salsa and enjoy!
2. Perfect your searing method
Pan searing is a dry heat cooking method that creates a crust on protein that not only enhances flavor, but also preserves the texture inside. During the searing process, whole muscle proteins such as chicken, beef, pork or seafood are caramelized in an intensely preheated pan, says Chef Ryan Hutmacher from Weight Watchers. Get started by blotting excess moisture from your protein and applying an even coat of oil, salt and then your favorite dried spices, says Hutmacher. Don’t overcrowd your food and select the right stainless steel or cast iron pan that is at least a third larger than the ingredients that are being seared in it. Pre-heat your pan for 5 minutes and add oil to avoid your food burning and to kick off the caramelziation process. Your protein goes in right after the oil and you should give it a tug to make sure it doesn’t stick. “For larger proteins like roasts or whole chickens, searing is the first stage of a two-stage process,” says Hutmacher. “Cooking is continued by transferring the seared item into the oven.” Smaller portioned proteins like fish, scallops or small chicken cutlets are more delicate and thinner, so it is possible to enjoy them straight from the pan to the plate. Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Let these ingredients rest for at least 5 minutes before portioning, to keep the flavorful juices from escaping under the stress of high temperatures.
3. Make the perfect omelette
An omelette is the perfect dish for any meal, but anyone who has tried to master cooking one knows it is easier said than done. Start with a knob of butter going into a hot non-stick pan and then add whipped eggs. Cook the omelette by pulling in the cooked edges from the side once in a while until it sets around the edge and slides easily back and forth in the pan. When the bottom is set but the top is still slightly wet, add your fillings and gently lift the side closest to you and fold it over on itself away from you, making a half-moon shape. Then, take the pan handle and tilt the pan away from you. Give it a good whack on a countertop, until the far side of the omelette slides above the rim of the pan. Fold this side back onto itself. You can then keep cooking the omelette to set the inside hard, or if you like it runny, pull it out and transfer to a plate.