Ah, cooking: the art of extremes. It’s calm or chaotic, it’s a chore or a hobby, and it’s achieving the perfect medium rare steak or the perfect bowl of instant noodles (both being beautiful entities). The truth of the matter is that not everyone is going to be the amazing, flawless, highly acclaimed chef that I am (seriously, I NEVER got yelled at in culinary school or burnt meatballs right in front of my chef* … ). But we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about you. You don’t have to be great, you just have to be good (it’s a life skill, people). Luckily for you, becoming a good cook isn’t too difficult – especially if you follow these handy tips:
- Handy tip #1: Get a good Chef’s knife and a good paring knife. A chef’s knife has a blade around 8 inches long and a paring knife’s blade is around 3.5 inches. Chef’s knives will cover most chopping duties and paring knives are useful when it comes to more intricate jobs. They don’t have to be expensive, but if you’re looking for something that will last I would go for a well-known brand such as Shun, Wustof, or Global. Cooks will argue over which brand is superior but comfort is what is most paramount. Most importantly (and please feel free to picture me as an angry French chef with a threatening pan of hot risotto in hand when I say this) KEEP YOUR KNIVES SHARP. You’re more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one.
- Handy tip #2: Get a cookbook with food and recipes that YOU like to eat. Sure, I could suggest a cook book written by Julia Child, but are you really going take time out of your day to make a recipe you can’t pronounce the name of (let’s try together kids! BUR – GON – ION) ? Maybe not. My first suggestion would be to look up one of your favorite chain restaurants and see if they’ve published a cookbook of copycat recipes that are designed for the home cook. You know you will enjoy this food, and that alone will encourage you to experiment with cooking. If you have no luck in that department, try finding a cookbook with words like “quick” “basic” and/or “simple” in the title. Most importantly, read your recipes carefully – you’re not me, okay?
- Handy tip #3: Go slow. I hate to break this to you, but you’re not going to be a chopping machine on your first go and if you try to be, you won’t be doing your fingers any favors. You don’t have a chef looking over your shoulder every couple of minutes like I did in culinary school, so you can afford to take things at your own pace. Keep in mind that google is your friend when it comes to learning how to dice an onion, mince garlic, or even just hold a knife correctly. Simply take a deep breath, watch your fingers, and put Gordon Ramsay out of your mind.
- Handy tip #4: Season. Your. Food. I’m sorry, but if you’re anti-salt, you’re no fun and your food is going to taste as bland as your personality. Yes, you can use substitutes such as soy sauce, coconut aminos, or pink himalyan salt – but you need SOMETHING to give your food that good salty taste. And of course you need salt’s counterpart, pepper. Black pepper > white pepper every time, but if you don’t want your Alfredo sauce to have little black bits in it, use white. In terms of seasoning your food properly, one of my favorite “celebrity chefs” has suggested seasoning your food in stages makes it taste better. So, sauté your onions and garlic and season a little. Add in your vegetables and season a little. Add in your protein, and season a little. Taste, assess, and adjust as required. A similar concept applies to herbs but only in two stages: Add fresh herbs during the cooking process, and then at the last moment, add a little bit more before serving. Seasoning in steps will give your food a fuller flavor and will help refine your pallet.
- Handy tip #5: Learn about what you’re cooking. Makes sense right? You need to understand food to make it taste good. For example, if you’re browning diced chicken, you need to do so in batches. Chicken releases water when it is fried and too much chicken in the pan = too much liquid for it to brown right away. This means you have to wait for all of the water to evaporate (which is simultaneously cooking the chicken) and THEN brown it. Result? Overcooked chicken. This is just one of the many lessons I’ve learned from experimenting with cooking, but there are countless other lessons to be learned. Which vegetables are going to release lots of liquid when you cook them? How do you thicken a sauce? How can you tell if a hard boiled egg is overcooked? There is SO much to learn and of course I know all of it but you don’t! More knowledge = less mistakes
Butter makes everything taste better.
*It was a rough day