Working on your culinary skills? These are the 10 most important skills every home chef should master.
1- Proper Knife Cuts
Recipes are one of the best ways to build your cooking skills. But if you don’t know what to do when you’re instructed to “dice”, “mince” or “julienne” an ingredient, you might find yourself lost before you even start.
Knowing the most common knife cuts and how to perform them is an essential cooking skill.
_Dice _means to cut an item into cubes. Large dice means ¾ of an inch on all sides, while small dice is ¼ inch. Medium dice is ½ inch.
Brunoise is the smallest dice, ⅛-inch cubes.
Batonnet means to cut a product into long, fat matchsticks ¼ inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long.
Julienne is a small matchstick cut ⅛ of an inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long.
Mince means to cut something, often garlic or ginger, as small as possible.
Chiffonade is often used for herbs and means to roll leaves into a tight cigar shape and slice the tube into thin ribbons.
2- How to Make Stock
Making stock at home from chicken, beef, vegetables and fish is an easy, laid-back cooking activity for a slow weekend afternoon. And the results of your minimal work are a delicious flavor base that’s guaranteed to boost the taste of nearly everything you make.
3- How to Make a Simple Vinaigrette
You’ll never have a sad salad again if you can whip up a basic vinaigrette. Start with 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar and a pinch of salt and pepper. From there, experiment with your favorite flavored vinegars, spices, and seasonings. Try mustard, garlic, fresh herbs and other ingredients to make the vinaigrette your own.
4- How to properly cook pasta
Once you nail perfectly cooked pasta, you’ll wonder why you didn’t figure it out earlier! Cook your pasta until it’s just al dente in very well salted simmering water. Al dente means “to the tooth,” so your noodles should have a bit of chew to them and even be raw in the center.
Instead of draining the pasta and tossing out all of your wonderfully flavored cooking water, save the pasta water to make silky pasta sauces. The best way is to have your sauce ready to go in a separate skillet and use a hand-held strainer to transfer the al dente pasta directly from its pot into your sauce. You’ll retain a good amount of pasta water during the transfer, which will enrich your other sauce.
5- How to Cook Eggs
An egg will always be your friend, even on the busiest morning or your most exhausted night. Knowing how to perfectly poach, fry, hard-boil, scramble and make a fantastic omelette means that you’ll never go hungry again.
6- How to Roast a Whole Chicken
Whole roasted chicken is an excellent and impressive dinner recipe to have in your back pocket. It’s a mostly hands-off dish that makes a satisfying and eye-catching centerpiece. Impress guests or simply make yourself a roast chicken on the weekends and enjoy it in sandwiches and salads all week long. Then don’t forget to turn the bones into stock at the end of the week!
7- How to Blanch and Shock Vegetables
The secret to crisp, bright-green veggies is a quick dunk in salted boiling water followed by a rapid cool-down in ice water. You can blanch large quantities of raw veggies at once and keep them on hand to toss into salads, snack on, or build into flavorful stir-fries.
8- How to Select the Best Produce
Every home cooked meal starts with raw ingredients, and you can’t make a fantastic meal with sub-par produce. If you know what to look for at the market, you’ll already have a head start on a delicious meal, no fancy techniques necessary.
9- Proper Seasoning
Understanding the different kinds of salt and how to use them is a foundational cooking skill. Kosher salt is the best for most everyday cooking, as it has large crystals and a salinity level that’s not overpowering and is therefore easy to control. Use it to season everything from meat to vegetables to fresh salads. Other salts, including sea salt, Himalyan pink salt and flaky Maldon all have various important culinary uses in their own ways. By experimenting with these different ingredients and getting to know their properties and textures, you’ll be able to better season your meals. A well-seasoned plate is not only more satisfying, it’s also a distinguishing factor between a beginner cook and an advanced chef.
10- How to Make a Pan Sauce
If you’ve mastered roast chicken or pan-seared steak, making a pan sauce is the next frontier. It’s a simple matter of deglazing the pan full of all the flavorful browned bits left from roasting or searing. Then you’ll enrich the sauce with cream or butter, or thicken it by reduction or with a slurry (a mixture of flour or cornstarch and water). You can turn a pan sauce into a bright and acidic lemony dressing for chicken or a rich and creamy gravy over your Thanksgiving roast.
With these important skills in your back pocket, you’ll be well on your way to becoming much more than a beginner home cook.