Great book for anyone wanting an overview of cooking basics. Core concepts include Setting Up Your Kitchen, Understanding Techniques, and Expanding Your Repertoire.
The book does a good job of putting you at ease with the idea of cooking. It uses special icons to mark shortcuts, tips, and warnings. It also includes drawings of the ideal kitchen setup & various kitchen tools, which I would have liked to see more of.
The authors are also quite funny! They sprinkle humor throughout the book in unexpected places which was a nice surprise.
Set up your kitchen triangle (Refrigerator > Sink > Stove) to be unobstructed and have a clutter-free worktop.
Organize your pantry so that you can see the items you use most (flour, sugar, oil, etc.).
Store dried beans, pasta, rice, flour, sugar, etc. in large glass or clear jars with lids.
If you use something all the time (oils, spices), consider taking out of the cupboard and storing it closer to your cooker, in ‘satellite’ storage like a cabinet or shelf.
Organization is they key to efficiency. 🔑🔑🔑
Salad leaves and leafy herbs can be washed, thoroughly dried, and wrapped in paper towels to extend their storage life. Other vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, should be washed just before serving. Excess water on any vegetable in storage can hasten its deterioration.
Difference between a pot and a pan: pods have two opposite-set handles and a lid. Pans have one long handle and come with or without lids. 🍳
The payoff for keeping a well-stocked kitchen, with only enough perishables (vegetables/meat) that you can eat in a week, is that you can whip up satisfying meals on short notice.
Every well-stocked cook should have on hand the following produce staples:
- Salad Greens
You also might want to stock the following produce, which can add flair to salads, serve as snacks, or add flavor to dishes like soups and stir fries:
- Apples, grapes, peaches, or whatever else is in season
- Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit
- Green onions
- Peppers (all colors)
Meat should look bright red, never dull or grey. Excess juice in the package may indicate that the meat has been previously frozen and thawed – don’t buy it.
Use raw meat within 2 days, or freeze it. To freeze, rewrap in foil, heavy duty plastic wrap, or freezer bags, pressing out as much air as possible and dating all packages. Freeze mince meat for up to 3 months, and other cuts for up to 6 months.
Cooking techniques that require water: boiling, poaching, steaming
Cooking with water is simple, but it helps to have a little knowledge about the process so you don’t over/undercook your vegetables, rice, etc.
Boiling is bringing water to 100°C (212°F) for cooking. You don’t need a thermometer. Let the water come to a full rolling boil (when the bubbles are rapidly breaking the surface). Covering the pot speeds the process by trapping heat.
Dense vegetables are sometimes parboiled, or cooked briefly in boiling water, to soften them slightly before another method finishes cooking them. For example, potatoes can be parboiled before being roasted in the oven. This technique guarantees that all the ingredients in the dish finish cooking at the same time. You might, for example, parboil green peppers before you stuff and bake them. Or you might parboil pieces of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower before tossing them into a stir-fry of egg noodles and prawns.
Blanching is briefly plunging vegetables into boiling water for a few seconds and then into cold water to stop the cooking process. It helps cooks remove the skins from tomatoes, nectarines, and peaches. Some vegetables, like green beans, are blanched before they’re frozen to help retain their color and flavor.
Simmering is like a gentle pre-boil. In a simmer, tiny bubbles break the surface gently. Simmering occurs at a lower temperature – just below a boil – and is used for long, slow cooking and braising. Poaching and simmering are virtually identical. Cookbook writers use the terms interchangeably just to confuse you.
Reducing means boiling liquid to thicken and intensify the flavor, typically for use in a sauce. Reducing actually reduces the volume of the liquid by boiling off the water, leaving a thicker, more richly flavored liquid behind. Many sauce recipes ask you to reduce the stock or liquid.
Steaming is the gentlest way to cook and is better than boiling or simmering for retaining a food’s color, flavor, texture, shape, and nutrients. It is a particularly good way to cook delicate seafood, like prawns, scallops, and mussels.
You can steam in 2 ways: in a perforated steamer set over simmering water (and covered) or in a deep, covered pot or saucepan holding about 3-5 cm (1-2 inches) of water. The latter method works especially well for vegetables like broccoli and asparagus.
You need to monitor dishes that are boiled, simmered, or steamed to make sure that the water doesn’t steam away. (Otherwise, your pot will not be a pretty sight.) If necessary, add a little more liquid to prevent the food from burning.
Sautéing is nothing more than cooking food in a hot pan, usually with a little fat (i.e. butter or oil) to prevent sticking. Sautéing imparts a crispy texture to foods and brings out all sorts of flavors from herbs and spices. The French word sauté translates literally as to jump. Chefs shake the sauté pan back and forth over the heat, tossing the food without using utensils, to keep the food from burning and to expose all sides to the intense heat. Practice this technique in an empty cold frying pan by using small sweets, such as M&Ms.
Because sautéing is done at high or medium-high heat, be careful not to leave food in the pan too long. If you don’t move it around when the time is right, it may blacken and burn.
Knowing When to Use Oil or Butter
When you sauté a food, you need to use some kind of fat, but which should you choose – butter or oil? Each is best suited for different kinds of sautéing.
- When you’re using very high heat, use oil, which is less likely to burn.
- When you’re using medium-high heat, you may opt for butter, which adds a nice flavor (but the butter can burn or brown, affecting the color and taste of your food…)
Typically, meat is sautéed in oil because it needs a higher heat, while vegetables are sautéed in butter to impart a pleasant buttery flavor. Seafood may be sautéed in either one, and many chefs opt to use half butter and half oil when sautéing: they get the benefit of the buttery flavor, but the added oil helps to keep the butter from burning as easily.
If you do decide to use oil in your sautéing, it is helpful to know that some oils have a higher smoke point than others, which means they will start to smoke at a hotter temperature, and so are preferable for cooking with high heat, such as with sautéing. Good oils for sautéing include canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. If the recipe doesn’t specify what type of oil to use, you can use any of these. Canola oil is a good standby to have around because its bland flavor and high smoke point make it suitable for all kinds of sautéing, and it won’t flavor food strongly so it can be used in most dishes.
Oil should be hot but not smoking in the pan before you add food. Butter should foam at its edges but not brown.
Chopping Onions and Garlic
Although you need to chop onions and garlic for many different cooking techniques, not just for sautéing, onions and garlic often form a basis of flavor for sautéed meat and vegetables alike.
No matter how you slice it, an onion releases intense flavor and juice, which is why so many recipes call for chopped or sliced onion.
The fumes onions emit can be very irritating to your eyes, however. To avoid chopped-onion tears, the best strategy is to use a sharp knife that reduces cutting time and to rinse off the onion frequently in cold water as you go.
Just as with onions, garlic releases its pungent juices when you slice or chop it. The more you chop it, the stronger its flavor becomes. Raw crushed garlic carries the biggest punch, while whole roasted garlic cloves release a nutty, slightly sweet flavor.
Getting Versatile with Your Sautéing
You can sauté just about any meat, fish, or vegetable, so experiment and enjoy some delicious meals. Notice how many recipes use the same basic sautéing technique and change only the types of fat and seasonings.
Vegetables are excellent when boiled or steamed until about 90 per cent done and then transferred to a pan to be finished with butter and maybe fresh herbs. Many classic recipes for potatoes call for sautéing; thinly sliced raw potatoes are delicious when cooked this way. In the following recipe, you cut the potatoes into fine cubes and toss them in a hot pan until crispy.
Sautéing is a great way to impart flavor to chicken. The chicken stays juicy with a flavorsome outside, especially with the addition of different herbs and spices. You can also make a delicious sauce with the leftover oil or butter and herbs by adding wine, juice, or chicken stock to the pan after cooking the chicken and reducing the liquid to concentrate the flavor.
Braising versus Stewing
Both braising and stewing involve long, slow cooking in liquid.
In braising, foods lie in a few inches of liquid, not quite submerged, so that they stew and steam at the same time. When braising meat, the meat is usually browned in hot oil first. You can braise beef, pork, or any other large piece of meat, including a whole chicken, by browning it on all sides in hot oil first to color it and add flavor, and then braising it in the liquid.
Stewing involves submerging ingredients in a liquid and simmering the mixture for a long time. Also, sometimes some of the ingredients (such as beef for a beef stew) are dredged in flour and browned in oil first, depending on the recipe.
Larger cuts of meat – and the very toughest – tend to be braised, whereas cut-up meat is stewed. Both methods make meat very, very tender.
Roasting and Grilling
Roasting is a delicious way to prepare food in the oven. It brings out the flavors, the textures, and the juices in many foods, and roasting a meal can also be very satisfying, from the initial preparation to the final presentation at the table.
Roasting is cooking uncovered in an oven in which heat emanates from the walls. When it comes to ease and simplicity, roasting is a valuable technique. You simply buy a big hunk of meat or a variety of vegetables, crank up the oven, and toss it in (well, almost). Whole fish are sublime when seasoned well and roasted. And root vegetables – carrots, onions, and beetroot, for example – become particularly sweet and succulent when you roast them.
The art of roasting is 90 per cent timing and 10 per cent patience. And if you use a meat thermometer when roasting meat, making a mistake is almost impossible.
Grilling involves intense heat, so is best reserved for relatively thin pieces of meat, poultry, or vegetables – thick cuts of meat can burn on the outside before cooking sufficiently in the middle. The advantage of grilling is that the surface of the food being cooked, especially meat, turns dark brown and develops a characteristic ‘charcoal’ flavor
Because you can’t see food that is grilling very easily, check it often until you get used to the timing.
Seasoning a roast
Have you ever eaten a superb chargrilled steak that lingers on the palate like an aged wine? Part of its appeal comes from being seasoned before cooking. You can season meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables with salt, pepper, herbs, and spices, but the trick is to know how much of which seasonings to use.
The most basic seasoning is probably salt. Salt is a flavor enhancer that brings out the best in many foods. For that reason, salting meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables before roasting is important. However, it’s easy to overdo the salt, and while a nicely salted roast is delicious, an overly salted roast is unpleasant. We advise using no more than a teaspoon of salt per 900 grams (2 pounds) roast, and many people would choose to use much less than this amount, or no salt at all. Others simply choose to enjoy the flavors of other herbs and spices.
Fresh herbs, dried herbs, and ground spices can all enhance the flavor of a roast, but overdoing the seasoning by including too many different flavors can also be detrimental to your final result. In addition to salt, limit yourself to no more than three or four different seasonings. For example, you might enhance a roasted chicken with tarragon and lemon pepper, or rosemary and white pepper. Cumin or chili powder can add punch to a roasted turkey. Or you might season a fish with paprika, black pepper, and dill. The possibilities are endless, and while some seasonings are traditionally used with certain kinds of foods, you can experiment to find the combinations you like. Seasoning is an art, and the more you practice, the more accomplished you will become.
To sear or not to sear?
Searing is heating oil in a very hot pan and then rolling a cut of meat (commonly for a roast) around to brown the entire surface, which seals in the juices and adds flavor before roasting. The advantage to searing is not only that it locks the juices inside, but also that it adds a nice golden-brown color to a roast that might not color as nicely on its own in the oven. The added flavor of oil used in searing can also enhance the flavor of the roasted meat.
However, searing isn’t a requirement. If you don’t sear your roast, it may be lighter in color and lighter in flavor, but you can still add seasonings. Searing adds one more pan to clean at the end of the meal, so skipping it saves not only an extra step in cooking, but also an extra step in cleaning up. The roast won’t have the same crisp outer layer when it isn’t seared first, but you might like your roast better this way.
Resting your roast
By the time a roast emerges from the oven, the intoxicating aroma has you so hungry that you could tear at it like a dog. Instead, take a deep breath and let it sit out, covered with foil, for 15-20 minutes (if the cut of meat is large). Resting the meat like this lets it loosen up a bit, enabling the internal juices to distribute more evenly and settle into the meat. Resting makes for a juicier roast that won’t lose so much juice when you cut into it. It also allows the roast to come to a temperature that is better for carving and eating.
Ten Ways to Think Like a Chef
- Know the Basic Techniques – Cooking is so much more fun, and successful, when you approach it with confidence. Chefs say that confidence arises from knowing your techniques so well that they’re second nature.
- Use only the freshest ingredients and buy in-season fresh fruits and vegetables. Seasonal produce offers the highest quality and supply and the lowest price. Why make an apple pie in the summer from mealy apples held in storage all year when you can make one with fresh, ripe peaches or juicy plums? Let what’s fresh and available at the market help you spontaneously decide what’s for dinner.
- So much of cooking, even for professionals, is preparation – slicing, peeling, dicing, and so on. The French call this preparation mise en place, which translates to ‘everything in its place’. Get the chopping, slicing, and washing chores out of the way in order to create an even, efficient flow of cooking steps. That way, when the butter or oil is hot and sizzling in the frying pan, you don’t need to stop suddenly to peel and chop the onions and garlic that are supposed to be sautéed in the hot fat
- Learn about herbs, both fresh and dried, so that you can season without always relying on a book or recipe. Chefs base some of the world’s great cuisines on the combination of a few simple herbs and spices. For example, Italian cooking relies heavily on the flavors of garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and basil. The French use a basic seasoning blend called mirepoix – a sautéed mixture of chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Many chefs begin their soups, stews, and pan sauces with these simple sautéed ingredients. You can vary this base by adding bacon, ham, fresh herbs, or even curry. In a perfectly made mirepoix, the vegetables cook slowly for a long time, causing them to caramelize slightly and sweeten.
- Think of the choreography of food on a plate. People eat with their eyes first. The food should be colorful and attractively arranged, with fresh herbs as a bright garnish.
- Before cooking, think about contrasting flavors, textures, and colors. If you want to be really advanced and are putting together a couple of courses, think about the menu plan. If the starter is a salad of grilled portobello mushrooms, then mushrooms in the main is not an interesting choice. Keep the courses balanced and don’t overload yourself. If you serve a time-consuming and complex starter, serve a simple main or one that needs only reheating, like a tasty stew. If your starter is cold, be sure that the main course is hot.
- Be Thrifty – Throw out nothing (unless, of course, it’s spoiled). Every morsel of food is usable for soups, stocks, salads, and so on. You can sometimes make great meals. Learn about different cuts of meat and how to cook them so that you don’t have to rely on more expensive cuts. Hone your knife skills so that you can save money by purchasing whole chickens, ducks, fish, and so on and then cutting them up yourself.
- Don’t Be a Slave to Recipes. Use a good basic recipe that you like as a starting point, but don’t consider it written in stone. Say that you have a recipe for basic stew. You make it once and decide that it could use more garlic, so the next time you double the amount. Or instead of turnips, you think that the sweet effect of chopped carrots would work, so you substitute one vegetable for the other. With experience and good technique, and by discovering how ingredients work together, you can simply glance at a recipe and make adjustments to suit your taste.
- Simplify. Too many spices spoil the broth. If you stick to no more than four basic flavors in a dish, they work together to provide complexity, yet each flavor maintains its individuality. Don’t load up your dishes with everything you can find. Sometimes the most perfect, delicious dishes are the simplest.
- Above All, Have Fun. Take a cooking course, buy yourself a cookbook, or make a new dish that you’ve always wanted to try. Cooking should be fun – something you look forward to. So what if you slam one into the rough every now and then! It’s all part of the game. Try new things. Stretch your skills. Take risks. Try again. You can experiment with other sauces, mousses, soups, casseroles, and more. Heard about a fascinating new ethnic dish? Try it! Wish you knew more about classic French cooking? Plunge into the research and start practicing. The world of cooking is vast and fascinating, forever yielding new wonders, flavours, mysteries, and surprises. What could be more fun than that? Cooking offers the adventure of a lifetime. We know that you’ll come to love it as much as we do.
Featured Photo Credit: João Silas (https://unsplash.com/photos/9c_djeQTDyY)