Learning to Cook: The Basics

For some people, learning to cook can seem a bit daunting. With so many techniques and cuisines to master, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

We guide you through some simple tips for grasping the basics of cooking—this knowledge will provide you with the confidence to branch out of your comfort zone.

Reading a recipe

Being able to understand and carry out instructions in a timely manner is an important step in learning to cook. At the beginning stage, it is advisable to stick to the recipe. After you refine your skills you can begin to improvise according to your tastes. Recipes always have two sections: list of ingredients and method. The ingredients will always be written in order of use. Once you have chosen the recipe, be sure to read it in full—leaving plenty of time before you begin cooking. If your meat needs to be marinated overnight and your meal is in an hour’s time, you don’t want to be caught unaware at such short notice. These mistakes can be avoided easily.

The art of seasoning

Well-placed seasoning can make the difference between a flavourful meal and a bland one. Salt and pepper should be used liberally on meat and to finish each meal; whether it is a cottage pie or pasta al forno. Some people worry that adding salt and pepper will detract from the core flavours, but, if it is done right, it should enhance them. Once you are comfortable with simple seasoning you can move onto more interesting additions. Lemon zest is fantastic when added to couscous, nutmeg works well within creamy sauces and smoked paprika adds a zing to roast potatoes. Experiment with these different flavours to master the art of seasoning.

Cooking rice

Learning to cook rice can prove to be challenging for many novice chefs. However, once you know the simple tricks of the trade, it’s a cinch. Start by measuring one part rice to two parts boiling water in a saucepan. Salt the water and stir once, put the heat on high and bring to the boil. Then, bring down to a medium heat and put a lid on the pan. The trick is to avoid stirring the pan (however tempting it may be) until the rice has absorbed the water and is cooked through. This should take around 12-16 minutes. Taste to test and fluff with a fork when you are satisfied with the consistency.

Searing meat

Searing meat, or ‘putting some colour’ on your meat is the best way to draw out its flavour. This technique is vital when cooking a steak or pan-frying seafood such as salmon. Put your skillet or pan on a high heat with oil or butter, then add your meat. Always lay it down away from you so that hot oil doesn’t splash in your direction. Leave the meat or fish until it develops a browned crust—do not be tempted to move it about. Once one side is done, flip it over and repeat the process.

Making a roux

Roux is a French term that refers to the combination of flour and fat; the mixture is used as a base to thicken sauces. Understanding how to use a roux can open a wonder of possibilities in the kitchen: it will serve as a base for making gravy, stews, sauces and soups. In a saucepan, melt or add your chosen fat—this is usually butter but lard or oil can also be used. Using a low heat, slowly add plain flour in an equal measure to the fat being used. This will produce a thick paste-like consistency. Then, depending on what you wish to make, you will add the liquid at regular intervals to make the sauce. For a cheese sauce you would add milk and grated cheese with herbs, while for a casserole you may add stock with tinned tomatoes and spices.

Once you master the basics, more complex methods of cooking will be easier to grasp. If you have enjoyed reading this article: ‘Learning to Cook: the Basics’, click here to read more on Celebrity Angels about Britain’s top foodie destinations. 

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