How To Cook – A Beginner’s Guide to Making Delicious Food
How To Cook – A Beginner’s Guide
Eating is more than just sustenance. Regardless of whether you’re a full blown foodie like me, chances are you take pleasure in eating at some point. For me, eating is less about energy gains and more about enjoyment. I love everything about food. The preparation, the tweaking, the actual sit down to enjoy what you’ve created. Everything. I also like to think I can cook pretty well. But if you don’t know how to cook, don’t panic! I’ve created a handy collection of top tips that will have you whipping up delicious meals in no time.
When you’re a novice chef, there are a few important things to consider before you actually get chopping:
It might sound a bit contrary, but the sharper your knife is, the smaller the chance of you cutting yourself. This is because blunt knives result in slipping and require a heavier hand to cut, chop, slice and dice. Having a razor sharp knife before you start cooking will ensure that the knife does the work for you, and you will get through your mise-en-place (prep) smoothly. It’s recommended that you sharpen your knife each time you use it to avoid bluntness. If you feel confident enough, you can use a knife steel, and drag the knife diagonally along the steel at a 45 degree angle. Here’s a handy video on how to sharpen your knives with a steel:
However, if this looks a bit too dodgy, a sharpening block will work just as well. The most important thing to remember before you start cooking is that your knives are sharp, clean and ready to get chopping.
Chopping boards are essential if you want to avoid nasty scratches on your work tops. You might think you can pop down a chopping board and get to work, but there are a few steps you should think about before you start learning how to cook.
- Is your board secure? If not, get a wet paper towel and lay it under the board – this will ensure the board doesn’t slip around while you chop.
- Avoid glass. Glass chopping boards are notoriously hard to work with, unnecessarily loud and quite frankly, useless. Instead, use a good quality plastic chopping board. Colour coded chopping boards are great as they indicate what to use them for – red for raw meat, green for raw vegetables etc.
- Be wary of cross-contamination. Cross contamination is one of the leading causes of food poisoning, but it’s easily avoided. Keep your raw meats separate from your raw, uncooked vegetables and cooked goods. A good way to avoid this is to make sure you wash your hands, clean your knives and use the correct chopping boards.
Know Your Oven
If you’re using your oven, especially for baking, it’s important to note that temperature you set it to might not be the true temperature of the inside of the oven. Baking requires precision, and a good way to ensure your oven is at the correct temperature is to purchase an oven thermometer. These only cost a few pounds, and can be placed in your oven while it’s being brought up to temperature. This ensures your food will be cooked properly, and avoids any unnecessary burnt bits.
In addition, if your recipe requires an oven, it’s best to start pre-heating that bad boy before you get to work.
Temperature is Key
Whether you’re learning how to cook a steak for the first time, or you’re roasting a chicken, knowing what temperature the food needs to be at makes sure it is safe for eating and cooked for your liking. Whilst seasoned chefs can usually tell when meat is cooked adequately, it’s always worth investing in a food thermometer. This not only helps to gauge when your food is ready, but also avoids any food poisoning.
Now, on with the cooking part…
You’re ready to go. You’ve made sure your knives are sharp. You’ve went out and bought thermometers. Now what?
Well, it depends on what type of cook you are. Are you adventurous and willing to try new things? Or would you rather stick precisely to a recipe? Either way is fine, but you should approach them in slightly different ways.
Prep, Prep, Prep
Regardless of whether you are experimenting or following a regimented recipe, preparation is essential in the success of the dish. When you’re learning how to cook, it’s easy to get lost in a fluster and end up with a bombsite kitchen. Preparation not only ensures everything you’re using is ready to go, but means that you can clean as you go. Cleanliness is essential.
Some tips for preparation include:
- Chop all of your vegetables ahead of time. You can even freeze pre-prepped vegetables and defrost before you’re ready to use
- Read the recipe. There’s nothing worse than starting to cook and realising you’ve forgot an essential ingredient
- Educate yourself. Don’t know how to chop an onion? Youtube it! There are plenty of informative videos that will make sure your knife skills are up to scratch
- Wash your hands. It might sound obvious, but you won’t believe the amount of professional chefs who fail to do so. Get in the habit of washing your hands before cooking, after handling raw meat and after cooking to ensure you avoid any nasty bugs.
Taste and Season
Tasting! The best part about cooking but one that is often neglected. It’s important to taste as you go along to make sure the balance of flavours is right. Balance is key in Thai recipes like my Tom Kha soup and if you don’t know how it tastes, how can you know if you’re doing it right?
Perhaps one of the most forgotten about points when learning how to cook is seasoning. A simple sprinkle of salt and pepper can really elevate a dish. If something is missing, add a pinch of salt and re-taste and you’ll be amazed what a small amount of the most basic ingredient can do to a dish.
Try New Things
Following a recipe or winging it? Both approaches can result in some amazing dishes when you try new things! Made a soup in need of a spice kick? Why not add a squeeze of sriracha? Making spaghetti bolognaise? Why not add some butter and milk into the sauce for a richer, creamier texture? There’s a million ways to amp up the flavour of your dishes, and at first, it might be difficult. Once you get into the swing of cooking however, you’ll be able to identify which ingredients go with which and this will widen your cooking scope to a whole new level.
The most important thing to remember when you’re learning how to cook is to have fun with it. It really does make a difference if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. If you’re stressed, chances are you’ll make a few mistakes and end up with a mediocre dish that could have been amazing. Enjoy it! Have a laugh, and cook with others.
So, there you have it. A really simple beginner’s guide to cooking.
Do you have any cooking tips for beginners? Let me know in the comments below…