General Question

Haleth's avatar

What cooking skills are important to know?

Asked by Haleth (19538points) October 10th, 2014

In the last year or two I’ve gotten really interested in cooking and started teaching myself new recipes. It’s becoming clear that there are better and worse ways to do things. If you want to saute a chicken breast, you can cook it one way and it will come out moist and tender. Cook it another way and it will be tough and dry.

What are some everyday techniques that you use, to be a better cook? Stuff like “don’t crowd the mushrooms.”

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41 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, you can’t cook chicken in a crock pot for 40–11 hours, I don’t care WHAT pineapple chicken recipe they post on Facebook.

Coloma's avatar

Most important, do not walk away from your stir fry when drinking wine, it only takes seconds for the whole thing to go up in smoke. lol
In general carefully watching your cooking is key, sometimes the entire outcome of a dish rests upon those couple, critical moments/minutes. I made a delicious Pineapple Mango chicken stir fry last night and while it was still good, I scorched the bottom of it when I became distracted for about 2 minutes and failed to keep stirring. haha

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Patience, knowing the right temperature and method for what you’re trying to do, and taste your food. The rest is pretty easy.

Dutchess_III's avatar

In other words, @Coloma, don’t walk away from your wok.

talljasperman's avatar

Don’t always cook with maximum heat. Save the maximum heat for boiling. Slow cooking tastes better.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Salt actually does bring out the flavor, but don’t over do it, because then all you taste is salt. Some people like tho, I guess.

zenvelo's avatar

A little organization goes a long way. Read a recipe all the way through before deciding on it. Make sure you have all the ingredients and tools before you start. My biggest cooking disasters have been getting two thirds of the way through and realizing I don’t have something.

And try something the way it is laid out in a cook book one time before experimenting. After that, you can trust your own instincts to add or decrease a flavor.

Buttonstc's avatar

Learn to find all of Alton Brown’s videos on YouTube.

He explains the important things to know about any method. He goes into the how and why of what needs to be done.

Cooking is as much a science as it is an art and once he explains the science part, it sticks in your head the next time you encounter a particular food in a recipe.

This allows you the freedom to pursue the art (creative) variations knowing you won’t screw anything up.

gailcalled's avatar

Knife skills, particularly how to dice an onion, mince, chop, and julienne.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Add a little vinegar to the water before poaching an egg. Use a slotted spoon to remove it from the water, and rest it briefly on a piece of bread to soak up the extra water before serving.

majorrich's avatar

how to make good gravy is pretty important.
as @gailcalled mentioned, knife skills are vital. and how to keep a knife sharp!
How to select vegetables and identify good quality meats.

Blondesjon's avatar

Learn how to properly season and cook with cast iron. It will change your life.

janbb's avatar

^^what he said but with more curse words.

filmfann's avatar

When you cook with wine, do not use good, expensive wine. The wine just adds to the sweetness of the dish. All the alcohol is burned away. Use a cooking wine, or something very cheap.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Get a double boiler. You fill the bottom pan up with water, and put your cheese, or whatever, in the top pan. That way you don’t have to spend your whole life stirring the cheese sauce, or whatever, so it doesn’t burn.

Blondesjon's avatar

@filmfann . . . I hate to disagree, but, you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink. The alcohol might burn away but the cheap ass wine flavor does not.

JLeslie's avatar

If you are unsure of a cooking term look it up. There is a difference between beat, mix, and fold. All incorporate ingredients.

Read an entire recipe through before starting.

When you cook rice do not stir it after the initial stir when you first put the rice in the pot. Once it is cooked let it sit for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

When making tomato sauce don’t cover the pot. A covered pot will increase the acidity.

Expect some trial and error. Often I consider the first time making something like a trial run.

I do a lot of semi-homemade. If you are cooking from scratch that’s best, but you can also do it halfway. Like buy a frozen Margherita pizza and add your own veggies. Or, I buy frozen sticky rice and it is perfect for making sushi.

Blondesjon's avatar

@JLeslie . . . yosuke imada may take offense with your final statement

rexacoracofalipitorius's avatar

How to choose a knife.
How to care for knives.
Knife skills.

Know your temperatures.Use a thermometer.
For boiling and baking, learn to adjust temperatures for ambient pressure (altitude).
Learn to measure. Substitute mass measurements for volume measurements when you can: this will lead to more consistent baking.

Learn what dissolves in what. Some spices are best heated in oil, some release their flavor into hot water.

Learn about the Maillard reaction and how to achieve it. It is flavor’s best friend.

Learn to make your own broth. It’s easy and cheap, and broths and stocks are the basis for lots of nice things.

Adagio's avatar

I don’t recommend trying a new recipe for the first time when expecting guests for dinner.

JLeslie's avatar

@blondsjon Sticky rice?

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Adagio I experiment on my family all the time. We’re blood, they’re stuck with me if I screw it up. Fortunately, I haven’t yet.:)

Dutchess_III's avatar

I have screwed up spectacularly in the past! But they still love me.

Today my 11 year old grand daughter asked if I was going to make my home made bread for Thanksgiving. :D I vamped my original recipe to substitute a dark lager for water or milk, and honey or brown sugar in place of white sugar. It’s really good.

AshlynM's avatar

Keep a careful eye on everything, even in the oven. Things can burn really quick. Other than that, most things are trial and error.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

How to produce simple, balanced and healthy meals on a budget. Plus how to cook food so it retains the highest level of nutrition.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I just started cooking a few years ago a well. I wish I had asked this question back then. So many great tips have already been provided.

@zenvelo‘s advice has been the most helpful during my learning process. Prepping is the key to success. I’m now at the point where I plan out one to two weeks worth of meals in advance, check to see what ingredients aren’t on hand and purchase those.

In addition to his post, it is vital (for me) to measure out and prep before the cooking process begins. Some recipes can require ingredients be combined quickly, and if they aren’t immediately on hand, it can lead to a culinary disaster.

One factor that I found to be the most challenging was in preparing a full meal and timing it right. Let’s say that you are serving grilled salmon, mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. It takes strategic planning in order to have all three items ready to serve at the same time.

While not a skill, one tip from another Jelly was to utilize the All Recipes website. It allows a member to create menus, generate a shopping list, save recipes in an electronic recipe box, read feedback from other members who have used it, and many other benefits.

Please keep us posted on your successes!

Aethelwine's avatar

Don’t make the mistake of adding too many ingredients to your dish. Keep it simple with few ingredients. It will taste better.

sinscriven's avatar

Knowing how to properly season is critical. You can’t be afraid of salt because without it everything tastes flat, flavorless, and watery.

It’s a little outside basic cooking skills, but working on getting a functional knowledge of the common seasonings and spices of a culture’s cuisine is pretty important too. Not only will it give you skills to learn how to cook outside of recipes and work with your own imagination, it gives you an arensal of ways to prepare simpler things like vegetables in multiple ways and flavors and save a ton of money in the process.

Cauliflower+milk+butter+chives+tarragon Immersion blender and serve with peas= Low carb mashed “potatoes” with peas ready to serve with your favorite protein.

Cauliflower (riced) + Garlic, oil, soy sauce, mirin + peas + beaten egg = Fried “rice”

Cauliflower + Peas + Potato + Tomatoes + Onion + Garlic + Ginger + Cumin + Turmeric + Chili Powder + Fenugreek + Coriander + Garam Masala = Aloo Gobi Matar.

CWOTUS's avatar

Have a grill in the back yard, and know how to use it.
Learn to make and enjoy salads.
Ditto what @gailcalled has said about knife skills, starting with “knife safety”, and learn to make a habit of scraping the chopped items off the cutting board with the back/top of the knife, not the edge.
Use the best cookware you can afford; don’t buy cheap pans.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

I like my pans like I like my women.

With a thick heavy bottom.

Smitha's avatar

Good knife skills, learn to bring about a balance in flavors. Whenever we cook we need to have a balance of saltiness, sweetness, and acidity in order to be perfect. This can be achieved only through practice. One of my favorite kitchen skill is to clean as I go, I always tend to do it or else at times my cooking suffers. Cook the vegetables properly. I prefer them to be crispy than mushy, so just cook for a little time and then off it as veggies continue to cook even after we remove them from heat. When using fresh herbs, never use them at the beginning of cooking as their flavors will tend to disappear.

pleiades's avatar

Learn low heat cooking methods first. It’ll give you a better appreciation for how hot heat cooks and how/what low heat cooks.

snowberry's avatar

In the event that you find yourself with picky eaters in the family, learn how to sneak healthy foods into the meal (such as pureeing cauliflower and putting it in spaghetti sauce).

Haleth's avatar

So many great tips!

@Buttonstc Alton Brown is my favorite. My workday starts at noon, so I often catch reruns of Good Eats during breakfast. There was an episode where he ran away from a giant meatball like Indiana Jones. There was another one that followed the plot of Jaws, only the terrifying sea creature was a killer scallop. :D :D :D

@filmfann I have to respectfully disagree with you about cooking wine. One of my relatives said the same thing about dishes cooked with wine, that they tasted “sweet” to her even though the food was made with a dry wine. It puzzled me for a while, but after some thought I figured it out.

A lot of wines are made to taste fruity and “friendly,” even if they aren’t necessarily sweet. These are often wines from warm climates and/or the new world, or most of the everyday wines you find in a typical grocery store. Big brand wines like Kendall-Jackson, Barefoot, Yellowtail, Sutter Home, etc. are made this way. One thing these wines have in common is that they’re very fruity and low in acid.

A major benefit of cooking with wine is that it adds acidity to a dish that might otherwise taste too rich, like say a creamy risotto. A lot of modern-day wines don’t have enough citric acid to freshen up a dish when you cook with them.

My rule of thumb is to use the cheapest wine that you would be willing to drink, and stick to cool climates or the old world. Like, a $7 New Zealand sauvignon blanc or a $10 Cotes du Rhone would be just the ticket.

Cooking wines are bleh. They take the cheapest available bulk wine and salt/season the hell out of it to cover that up.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Haleth knows her wine!

Haleth's avatar

Here’s a couple of my own in case it’s helpful!

Preheat the pan
To get a good sear on something, or keep vegetables from going mushy, start with a pan that’s already hot. Put an empty pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high while you finish up food prep. Wait two or three minutes and then drop a little cold water on it. If the water sizzles, or skitters across the pan, it’s ready.

Veggies
Start with a hot pan. Add butter or olive oil and minced garlic, then stir it around for a minute until the garlic is fragrant. I buy minced garlic in a tube, it costs saves SO MUCH time. Add the veggies and move them around quickly for about 5 minutes. For tough greens like kale or collards, add a splash of chicken stock and some wine and let it steam on low under a lid.

High heat, low cook time is good for a lot of veggies, because it keeps them from going mushy. I was basically raised on a diet of mushy, overcooked veggies.

Cook a tender chicken breast on the stovetop
Dredge a couple boneless, skinless chicken breasts in flour, salt and pepper. Start with a hot pan on medium-high and melt a generous pat of butter on there. Sizzle the chicken for about 2 minutes on each side until they are golden brown. Cover tightly, turn the heat to medium-low, and leave it alone for 10 minutes. It should be tender and juicy.

Pan Sauce
Take the chicken breasts from above and let them rest on a plate. The pan is now covered with melted butter and chicken stuff. Turn the heat to medium-high and add a bunch of chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Move them around quickly until they start to stick, then add chicken stock and white wine. Turn down the heat, let it simmer down and add (optional) heavy cream, salt and pepper. Return the chicken breasts to the sauce and simmer them together for another 5 minutes.

You can also make a bitchin beef pan sauce with stout beer

Meat
Let it rest at room temp for a few minutes before serving/ cutting into it. Otherwise all the juice will come out and it looks totally gross. If you serve meat in slices, cut against the grain and it will seem more tender.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Haleth A nice vermouth is also good for the pan sauces. :)

Coloma's avatar

I am soooo hungry right now, think I will make chicken breasts and squash tonight. Mmmm

Yes, good, sharp knives are critical too, we have an arsenal of really quality knives here, they must be returned to their sheaths immediately after use and washing/drying. No leaving them in the drainer to get nicked. You should have seen the mountain of onions and red, orange and yellow bell peppers & water chestnuts I sliced up last night for my stir fry.
Also, a great way to prep your veggies for stir fry is to put them in a plastic bag with whatever oil and seasonings you are using and shake them up for the perfect toss. :-)

KNOWITALL's avatar

JUst cook a lot. Experience is built on trial & error. A good cookbook is key & granny’s recipes don’t hurt.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Use a gas range, for heaven’s living sake.

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