Basic cooking skills we all need to know.

Aug 7, 2019 | Cooking Tips

Last week I wrote an article about how food prices were going to continue to rise making food unbearably expensive. Today I want to offer some semblance of a solution. So, I am going to share with you a handful of basic cooking skills that will hopefully allow you to eat well, even when food prices go through the roof.


Basic Knife Skills

Knowing how to properly hold and use a knife is important for a variety of reasons. The first being that holding a knife properly is safer than holding it improperly. The second being that once you get used to holding and using a knife properly, you will be able to cut items much quicker and with more confidence. This comes with practice of course, but the right technique will get you there much quicker.


When holding a knife, I generally recommend that you grab the top of the blade just above where the handle ends between your thumb and index finger. Then wrap your remaining fingers around the handle in a firm but relaxed grip. This will give you the most control over the knife.

If the handle of your knife is too big to do this, simply hold the knife as high up on the handle as is comfortable. Again, use a firm but relaxed grip.

Your other hand should be used to secure the food that you are slicing or chopping. The key is to make sure that your fingertips are curled back, and that you always know where they are in relation to the blade. I suggest keeping the back of your fingers in contact with the flat side of the knife. This has the added bonus of helping to secure the knife even more. Just make sure you keep those fingertips and your thumb back away from the blade.


You can see the technique at work in all of the above pictures. Once you get the hang of it you will use it for everything.


Building Flavour

When we think of building flavour, if we do at all, it generally is thought of as adding spices and herbs to a dish. But the truth is that lots of flavour can be added into a dish just by cooking each ingredient properly. That is why two people can make vegetable soup from the same recipe and have them taste very different. It’s the difference between roasting or sauteeing the vegetables versus just throwing them into the water raw. It completely changes the flavour and quality.

So, how can you get more flavour out of your basic ingredients? There are a variety of ways. As I mentioned, roasting or sauteeing is always a good start. Roasting especially, will bring out the natural sweetness in vegetables, and intensify the meaty flavour of bones used for stock.

To roast vegetables, or bones simply get your oven nice and hot, 400°F – 450°F will be more than enough. Spread the vegetables or bones out on a roasting pan or sheet pan. Vegetables should be drizzled with a little oil, and then put in the oven, on the middle rack for about 15-20 minutes, turned, and put back in until they develop a deep brown colour. This will probably take another 15-20 minutes or so. Bones may take longer.

If using the bones to make a stock, once they are roasted, cover them with cold water, add in a bit of onion, carrot, and celery, preferably roasted, and simmer for an hour or two. Herbs like bay leaf and thyme can also be added in. After a few hours, strain the stock, keeping the liquid and discarding the bones and vegetables. Now, you can add a bit of roasted meat, a few roasted vegetables, a bit of seasoning, and all of a sudden you have a delicious flavourful soup.


Sauteeing Vegetables

Sauteeing just means to cook something in a hot pan while keeping it moving. It is essentially the French version of stir-fry. Sauteeing vegetbales, rather than steaming or boiling them brings out their natural sweetness without developing the same dark brown colour you get from roasting.

If you are making rice, sautee some diced onion, carrot, and celery in a bit of oil until the onion starts to soften and go see-through. Then add the liquid as directed by the rice cooking instructions and cook the rice as you normally would. This will add a lot of flavour as well as a bit of vegetable to the rice. It is a simple and delicious way to bulk up the flavour.


Basic Cooking Lower End Cuts Of Meat

Lower end cuts of meat are usually those that come from the more used parts of the animal. Like around the legs. The more expensive cuts, like beef tenderloin, are muscles that don’t get used very often if at all, that is why they are so tender. So, the more used a muscle is, the tougher it will be and generally, the cheaper it will be. Knowing what do to with these cheaper cuts is a really valuable skill.

The number one technique for these lower-end cuts is braising. Now, braising is a fancy word for slowly cooking something in or with a bit of liquid. So, essentially, you put a piece of meat in a pot, with enough liquid to cover it by at least 1/3. Then you cover the pot and put it in the oven on 300°F for a couple of hours. It takes time, but you don’t have to do anything while it’s cooking.

To get the most flavour out of a braised cheap cut of meat, we need to use all the other techniques we talked about. The liquid used to braise the meat should be stock if available because it is already flavourful and will add that flavour to the meat. Vegetables that are used can be roasted a little as can the meat before being braised. Essentially, the idea is to add as much flavour, into the basic ingredients as possible.


Conclusion

There are a million other basic techniques that we should all know, but the few that I listed above will get you really far. Those few techniques will allow you to eat well on very little money for a long time. Learn them, use them, master them, and you will be happy you did.

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