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A chef’s cooking tips for beginners.
Maybe you aren’t the best cook, but you want to be better and want some cooking tips for beginners. You watch videos online and daydream about making the perfect souffle, a creamy potato puree or handing your spouse a plate of food and watching their face light up.
Why dream when you can make this your reality with just a few simple tips from the professionals, and no I’m not talking about spending crazy amounts of money for Gordon Ramsey’s masterclass. Believe it or not, you too can impress your family and friends with creative well thought out meals that look like they belong in a cookbook.
I’ve been a professional chef for the last 10 years; I got my start working full time for a catering company when I was just 16. After learning the ins and outs of the business and life in the kitchen, I pursued a higher level of cuisine. Working in some of the best restaurants in the world.
Chef’s these days aren’t those grunts that look like they just came out of prison. Although the hipster tattoos, plating tweezers and excessive drinking are all still valid. The most successful chefs are quite intelligent, eager to teach as well as learn, adaptable in any kitchen environment and truly know how to lead a team.
In order to have a successful kitchen you must be able to teach; you want every cook working under you to be able to execute your vision. For them to understand your standards, you must begin by teaching them the basics.
In this article I will be able to speak to you, the home chef. Teach you simple cooking “do’s and don’ts” and tell you what equipment you must have in order to work clean and efficient.
One of the most importent cooking tips for beginners is equipment. So, let’s start with that you need. First, a large wooden cutting board. Whenever you are dicing vegetables or simply want to keep your kitchen counter more organized, a large cutting board is a must. Bigger the better, it should not fit in your dishwasher. Always wash with soap and water after use, especially if you have just cut onions or garlic.
The raw “gassy” taste of the onion can be easily transferred onto anything else. Be sure you wipe dry when you are done, letting moisture collect on your wooden board can leave permanent damage.
Another item you need is a non-stick pan. A pan that you only use for specific items, for example omelets, and nothing else. You do not sauté vegetables and you do not cook a steak in this pan. You keep it safely tucked away in your cupboard wrapped in a dishtowel, to prevent scratching. The smallest scratch in the pan can lead to irreversible damage, just like when you used to scratch your CD’s.
Now we move on to your knives. These can get expensive and honestly, a waste of money for the home chef. For the beginner I recommend brands like Victorinox or Global. They have a wide variety of knives and tools for a good price, and these blades are built to last. To start you are going to want a chef’s knife, one that isn’t too long and fits well in your hand.
A honing rod (also known as steel), to keep your knife in its most pristine condition. You could also purchase a bread knife and a slicer, although not necessary to start out with.
I hope you already have the basic smallware’s, things like peelers and wooden spoons. If you don’t, simply walk into your local kitchen supply store and go on a shopping spree. These small items are usually affordable.
Let’s start cooking!
One pot wonders.
You have got your kitchen organized, counters are clear, and your equipment is set. Let’s start talking cooking.
When cooking at home you’re usually wanting to use as little of that brand-new equipment as possible. The ability to cook anything in your kitchen does not mean you have to make a huge mess every time you have a meal. Chilli’s, stews and soups are all great examples of what I like to call “one pot wonders.” Minimal mess and cleanup.
Now the important trick when cooking in only one pot is to properly build flavour. Roasting your ground beef in oil first, until a nice deep dark caramelization of the beef has begun. Removing the beef from the pot, so it does not burn. Then adding your vegetables to get some colour in the rendered-out beef fat left in your pot.
If you are afraid of burning your food do not fear, you can always deglaze your pot. Using water or wine. It takes some practice to be able to see what good caramelization looks like, compared to burnt food.
Use your pasta water.
We can now talk about everyone’s favourite, pasta. Dried pasta contains a lot of starch that is going to help your sauce thicken and coat your noodles perfectly. For this you need one pot of boiling water, seasoned with a handful of salt and a pan to make your sauce. Dried pasta does not take long to cook in boiling water if you make sure it is constantly boiling. Under no circumstances do you ever put dried pasta in water that isn’t at a rolling boil.
For linguini I usually boil it for about 5-6 minutes, and let it finish cooking in my sauce. When you strain your linguini never dump the pot of water out into a colander. Instead, use tongs or a small strainer to reach into the pot and scoop out the pasta, directly into your pan with sauce. Never rinse your pasta under tap water, doing so removes that lovely starch we talked about.
Now that your pasta is finishing in your saucepan you can adjust the consistency by adding the pasta water as needed. This does not dilute the flavor like tap water would. Instead it adds more starch and seasoning from your lightly salted water.
Flavouring does everything. One of the most important cooking tips for beginners.
Properly finishing dishes is my final and most important tip. By finishing I mean, the smallest details right at the last possible second to enhance flavor or acidity. You must purchase a nice flakey sea salt; Maldon Salt is the most popular brand worldwide. Expensive for salt, but worth it. The smallest sprinkle on top of your steak, fish or vegetables truly highlights your food.
Every piece of fish I cook is always finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and Maldon Salt. Not lemon juice from the bottle, but from the lemon. Next time you cook seafood of any type, buy a lemon and cut it into ¼’s. Remove the seeds on the inside with the tip of your knife or fingers, and you’re ready to squeeze fresh juice all over your fish or vegetables.
Here’s an easy dish you can try using most of these techniques. Asparagus blanched in boiling salted water until tender, removed and placed into a pan of brown butter and sliced almonds. Finished with a squeeze of lemon and flakey sea salt. Simple, delicious and sure to be a crowd-pleaser.