What's the first cooking skill you learned? Maybe you were five and baking cookies, or nineteen and learning to fry an egg. If I cast my mind way back, I remember baking cookies in primary school and being so impressed our teacher could eyeball her ingredients - everything would go onto the scales in near enough the right amount straight away. Well, whether you’re a cooking jedi yet or not, we've stolen some top tips from our 'Back to Basics' cooking course that can help anyone in the kitchen.
Our B2B class takes you from basic to pro in only a few hours. You'll be blanching, sautéing, making pan fried succulent saddleback pork, a fluffy Victoria sponge and more! It’s perfect for beginners or people who feel like they want to level up their essential cooking skills so that ‘effort’ becomes ‘effortless’.
But what about those tips? Let’s get started!
Get a good knife
A sharp 6inch - 8inch chef’s knife will do you wonders. We’ve got a full blog on the benefits of an AWESOME chef’s knife, but here are the essentials:
One great knife is better than a range of cheap knives. The blade will last longer and be beautifully weighted for top performance - both qualities rarely found in cheap knives.
A great chef’s knife will stay sharp for longer, and be able to achieve a sharper edge too. Despite what you might think, a sharp knife is safer. By helping the knife ‘bite’ the edge of foods, it grips better rather than slipping off and catching a finger. Ouch!
A proper chef’s knife is honestly a joy to slice and dice with. Whether you’re working with veg, fruit or meat, you will truly notice the difference.
Take it slow
Cooking to a tight schedule can make things very stressful! How often have you put off making dinner, or not prepared lunch ahead of a busy day (especially in these ‘work from home’ days). Cooking is not a chore. It is a pleasure. Whatever diet you’re on, whatever food you like, however busy you are, cooking can be anything from a few moments to a few hours of mindfully preparing food that is joyful to eat and nutritious for our stressed out bodies.
Nowadays, creativity is really something most of us feel like we don't have ‘time’ for. Lots of our jobs are busy, fast paced, and we never end up with tangible things that we can say we made. Working at a desk or serving people often means we can feel like we go home empty handed. But we have to eat! And cooking is a simple way to add creativity into our day, so that every meal time you can look at your plate and see something that you created with your hands. Yeah, ok, it’s gone in a flash (although eating a bit slower is always a good thing too!) but the pleasure of having made something enormously benefits mental health.
With a bit of experience in the kitchen, putting aside time to find recipes and trial them, you’ll quickly have a go to repertoire of amazing recipes for days you’re short on time and for those when you can truly linger. The worst thing you can do is try and squish a 1.5 hour recipe into 45 minutes, cut corners with your cooking, or give up entirely and reach for another processed snack.
Taste as you go!
Yeah, don’t go gobbling raw meat! But tasting as you go, when it is safe to do so, is the best way to learn flavour interactions. It’s usually pretty easy to follow a recipe ingredient by ingredient, have a little taste at the end and go ‘that’s nice!’. But by tasting more frequently during cooking you learn how flavours interact. How does adding salt change the flavour? How about cheese, paprika, chicken versus beef? This is a fantastic skill for when you realise you ran out of one or two key ingredients for a recipe you’re halfway through and need to quickly sub. It’s also fab when you want to use leftovers, or can’t be bothered to go to the shop.
Practice Practice Practice!
Not everything will be perfect the first time you do it, if something isn’t as good as you think, learn from it and try again next time. Don't give up! In fact, we have a blog coming later this month all about what to do when your recipe does go wrong - and it can happen to both the new and the experienced chef. Practice is a great way to build your confidence and learn how to overcome slip ups.
Read a recipe all the way through before you start cooking
If you live with someone else - possibly a significant other - then the law of the universe states that one of you wants to read the IKEA instructions and the other one doesn’t. And you probably cook the same way too! Sure, you can wing it all the way through a recipe to a tasty meal at the end, but if you want to be SURE the wardrobe will look like a wardrobe and function like a wardrobe - read the instructions. So read the recipe too!
Cooking is chemistry. And sometimes physics. And sometimes biology. Basically, there are laws at play that hugely influence flavour and texture, and in some cases, safety (exploding jacket potatoes and poisonous pork come to mind). Flash frying onions and caramelizing them over time result in different outcomes. Adding the garlic to the onions, or adding them later to the sauce creates different flavours. One biggie that catches me out even now is when a recipe calls for pasta to be cooked in the sauce. A long time ago I was making an ‘in one pot’ mushroom pasta, but had already cooked the pasta separately, added 500mls of water to my delicious sauce, and THEN realised all that water was to help the pasta cook in the sauce. Let’s just say an hour later the sauce still hadn’t reduced and we had mushroom soup instead.
And on that note… prep in advance
Always get everything chopped and prepared beforehand so you don't get caught out. In the cheffing world we call this 'Mis en place' which translates to 'Everything in its place'. It just makes it so much easier to make sure you have everything you need in advance, so that everything can be added at the right time… and in the right amounts. This is especially important for baking. If you miss-measure baking powder straight into flour, you aren’t getting it out again for a second go. That’s a whole lot of flour and baking powder wasted! So do it once the right way.
I’d love to hear what your top essential tip for the kitchen is! Comment below or head to our Instagram to let us know.