Learning to cook can be quite daunting. As usual, the best way to tackle a new challenge is to split it up in smaller pieces and deal with one at a time. Being in control of your kitchen and diet can be an extremely rewarding experience, so we thought of compiling a short list of cooking techniques to get you started.
Roasting works on the same principle as baking, but it refers to meat and vegetables. Usually done in the oven, ingredients are cooked until golden brown and tender. This technique enhances the taste of food so much that everything tastes better if roasted. It’s a process of caramelizing proteins, fats and sugars, and while the water evaporates it transforms food into a satisfying dish with a rich taste.
Knowing how to roast meat is a definite wow factor for every home cook. Before roasting, let the meat stand at room temperature for an hour. This will allow it to cook better and get that lovely brown colour sooner. Right before putting your meat in the oven season it. You don’t want to do it too soon because this will prevent the meat from cooking well and could even make its juices come to the surface. Cook on a little less than the desired temperature and start checking on it early.
Roasting vegetables is easier, but it equally requires attention. For 1kg of vegetables, use one or two tablespooons olive oil. Season them with salt, pepper, herbs or spices. Tender vegetables need about 15-20 minutes to roast well, but root vegetables which are much denser can take up to 40 minutes.
Stews are in the centre of diet, and being able to make one good stew shows that you know food just by looking at it cook and can tell a lot about its texture with a mere stir. The technique is similar to braising, but the ingredients are somewhat smaller as stews are usually made of diced vegetables and meats.
This is long, slow cooking that extracts the flavours of all ingredients until they blend evenly. You can stew meat, fish or vegetables. The process is same for any stew you prepare, but the length should be adjusted depending on the ingredients.
Beef, lamb, mutton and pork stew are most popular kinds. The best meat for a stew is the tough cuts such as brisket, oxtail, shank, etc.
The best fish for a stew are the thich, meaty candidates such as shark, snapper, cod, halibut. Seafood is quite lean so the cooking time is much shorter than that of cooking meat stew. The stewing time can be as short as 10 minutes.
Stewing vegetables is a perfectly good idea. In fact, French Ratatouille is just stewed veggies. Some stewing-appropriate vegetables are cabbage, celery, eggplant, tomatoes, leeks, kale, chard, or any other tough greens.
Stew in a Dutch Oven pot or a crock pot, and don’t rush it.
Boiling vegetables strips them of their nutrients, so the best way to preserve their nutritious value and colour is to boil them shortly in water, i.e. to blanch them, and then toss them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
This is a really useful technique if you want to peel the skin of fruit. Blanching helps firming the flesh while loosening the skin (for example, peaches or tomatoes). You can use it for cooking herbs too and blanch basil for a bright green pesto sauce. This technique will give you a beautifully coloured pesto that won’t change its colour even when you mix it in hot pasta.
Sautéing is a cooking technique that uses a bit of oil or fat for food that is being cooked in a pan over medium-high heat. Ingredients are sliced or cut into pieces (as opposed to pan frying, when larger pieces of food are cooked) to make it easier for them to cook faster. Foods are cooked until tender and browned, all the while keeping their flavor and texture.
Butter, sunflower oil and rapeseed oil are used for sautéing. Avoid using olive oil due to its low smoke point. Butter burns more easily, but it gives food an excellent taste and a golden crust. Cook at 170-180°C. Oil won’t give you a very rich flavor, but it doesn’t burn as quickly and you can cook at 190-230°C.
This is a quick process that takes a few minutes and while cooking ingredients need to be moved around continuously, using a utensil or jerking the pan itself.
Lots of different kinds of food can be sautéed. The usual ingredients are chicken or any other meat, vegetables, and fish. All you need for a proper sauté is a good pan, high heat, a little fat, and well cut ingredients.
Something to remember when sautéing is to preheat the pan before adding fat, and to never use cold ingredients you have just taken out of the refrigerator.
Searing meat or seafood is all about building flavor. When you put meat on a hot pan, the surface starts to caramelize instantly giving it a savoury flavor that can take a dish to the next level.
Searing meat is simply going the extra mile, doing some caramelisation action while the real cooking happens in the oven or in the stew. But this is definitely worthwhile, and so a great technique to know.
Use paper towel and pat the meat or fish to get rid of extra moisture and make it easier to brown. Preheat the pan over high heat and add the oil. Swirl the oil around to get a thin coating on the whole cooking surface. Once the oil heats up and you notice a bit of smoke add the meat and let it cook. Make sure your pan is large enough and be careful not to crowd it.
When the corners start to lift up, that’s your queue to flip it. If it still sticks, give it a little more time. Thinner cuts can be cooked entirely this way, but thicker pieces of meat need to finish cooking in the oven or the skillet.