Ten basic cooking tricks every beginner should know
If you’re a beginner cook, the kitchen can be an overwhelming place. It doesn’t need to be.
These basic cooking tricks will keep you organized and confident in the kitchen—and maybe simplify your entire cooking process altogether!
Read the recipe through before starting. Twice.
It’s easy to get excited about a recipe, skim through the instructions, and throw yourself right into cooking mode. We’ve all been there once or twice, and especially when hunger strikes!
To avoid an epic fail, be sure to read the recipe from top to bottom when you decide to make the dish, and again just before you start cooking. Recipes can mistakenly leave out information and ingredients in the bulleted lists, but have them appear further down in the instructions. Read the recipe thoroughly to make sure you have everything you need before you get busy cooking.
Prep and organize the ingredients.
Before you even heat up the pan, get everything ready. Ingredients should be washed, chopped, diced, minced, and set out prior to cooking. Utensils and equipment should be ready and within reach, and you can go as far as placing your ingredients in their cooking order.
Being prepared and organized is important for both the safety and the success of your meal. Stress caused by forgetting to prep a key ingredient can easily lead to burns, cuts, and ruined ingredients. Avoid a trip to the emergency room and allow yourself more time to sip some wine, by cooking like a pro. Making use of the French cooking term mise en place* gives you less of a chance for such mistakes.
*Literally translates to “put in place”
Get a good knife.
A good knife is essential to your success in the kitchen. To work effectively and efficiently, you definitely need the right tool for the job, so make sure that you’ve got yourself at least one good knife.
Back in May we posted about the importance of a good knife, and you can read all about the five basic knives that every kitchen needs here.
Don’t crowd the pan.
Foods release moisture as they cook. When pans get crowded, food will start to steam itself rather than brown and its texture will change. Give your food ample room in the pan, especially when browning or baking things that need to be crisp.
If you only have one size pan or skillet for the dish that you’re making, don’t worry. Simply cook your food in batches to ensure that the end result is the one that you’re looking for.
Add salt to pasta water. Not oil!
Salting your pasta water gives flavour to the pasta before you put any sauce on it. Don’t worry about consuming too much salt because most of it goes down the drain with the water.
Don’t add oil to your water! Adding oil will make the pasta slick and keep the sauce from sticking to it.
It’s also important not to rinse your pasta when you drain it. The starchy water that the pasta boils in has all the goodness and helps the sauce adhere to the pasta. Rinsing will also make your pasta get cold.
Let your meat rest before cutting into it.
When the meat is cooked, moisture moves outward towards the edges of the meat. If you cut into it right away, all the juices spill out. By letting it rest, the juices move back towards the center of the meat.
Turn off the heat before eggs are finished cooking.
The trick to getting great eggs is to not overcook them! Whether you scramble them, fry them, or poach them, always turn off the stove a few minutes before the eggs look done—yes, even when they seem a bit runny. The remaining heat will cook them to perfection.
Purchase fresh, quality ingredients.
Food can only be as good as your ingredients, and you get what you pay for.
Farmers’ markets are a great place to source out fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. There would also be a variety of local venders selling organic eggs, poultry, and other meats.
Spices are definitely something to be picky about. Avoid using old, expired spices in your dishes. It’s important to buy your spices in small quantities and replace them only when needed. Spices don’t like heat, light, air, or moisture so keep them in a dry, dark cupboard and put them in tins instead of glass jars. If you suspect a spice to be off, smell or taste it for weakness in flavour or odd aroma. If it smells or tastes wrong, toss it!
Use proper measuring tools.
Use actual measuring spoons, not the regular teaspoons and tablespoons that you eat with. The spoons we eat with vary in size depending on the design of the spoon. They’re not precise.
If you’re going to be spending some quality time in the kitchen, it’s a good idea to purchase a set of measuring spoons and cups—for both dry and liquid ingredients.
While a liquid cup and a dry cup are exactly the same size, a dry cup is meant for measuring things like flour, sugar, and other fine granules. You are supposed to fill the dry measuring cup completely to the top and then scrape off any excess with the back of a knife. In a liquid measuring cup, you can’t do this and simply fill the liquid to the line of the amount needed. Using dry measuring cups for dry ingredients is a more precise way to measure, and very important when baking.
As a beginner, it’s very important to follow the recipe. You can always make notes and alter the recipe the second time around—especially if it’s a keep or you want the flavours to pop a little more.