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Feb 6, 2013 06:30 PM

What basic cooking skills should a beginner know?

I'm a beginner cook. I can make pasta, any egg-based dish, and quiche. Maybe a few more dishes, but my cooking knowledge is very limited. I'm trying to become a more advanced cook, so I no longer fear people coming over to dinner or the dreaded work potluck. Ive bought a Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything snd Chez Panisse Vegetables to help in my quest. What basic cooking skills should a beginner master? I'm very limited in my meat cooking skills especially.

I apologize in advance: chowhound will probably be inundated with newbie cooking questions from me. Pardon my ignorance.

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  1. Definately the braising technique.

    1. I learned how to cook with the cookbook "Fine Art of Italian Cooking" by Giulino Bugialli. I must have made 50-60 recipes from that book.

      I suggest picking one cookbook and going through everything you like. I'd pick one that emphasizes the cooking style you'd like to learn.

      I think the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook could be a hard one because it emphasizes quality of ingredients more than cooking technique (which isn't bad at all, but not the best if you're trying to learn technique).

      In terms of cooking meat, it might be better to watch videos than look at cookbooks. Sometimes you have to see what the meat looks like to understand when something is ready.

      One thing about meat to understand early on is the difference between tender cuts of meat and tough cuts -- and make sure you cook each type differently and correctly. Braising tough cuts of meat is very easy to learn, while preparing tender cuts like filet could take more practice.

      2 Replies
      1. re: calumin

        I'm definitely going to look up the differences between cuts of meat. That's a very helpful suggestion.

        1. re: calumin

          Calumin: I feel exactly the same way about Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. I bought it years ago at the Strand in NYC. It also has wonderful photos of the food.

          I don't know if it's even in print these days, but if you come across it, grab it and run to the check out counter.

        2. I find Bittman infuriatingly smug and I don't actually like his recipes. I learned to cook by reading Joy of Cooking straight through, starting at page one.

          Basic knife skills are important. Being able to dice or mince an onion, or mince herbs, for example. Figuring out the timing of starting with high heat and reducing to medium or low to finish something.

          19 Replies
          1. re: Violatp

            How did you learn knife skills?

            1. re: kdlalib

              You might want to try this link by Sue Riedl, she has other technique videos as well.

                1. re: kdlalib

                  Within the same link lower down, basic knife skills and how to buy a knife. Glad to be of help!

              1. re: kdlalib

                I took a class at a kitchen supply store in Chicago, it was a locally owned store, but Sur LaTable has classes too Also most larger cities have "cooking schools" that are meant for the home cook, where you can pick and choose classes to take, usually they're just a one time class for a few hours.

                1. re: kdlalib

                  I thought I had read that Jacques Pepin's latest release of (?) Techniques included videos of what he was doing, but when I checked on Amazon, I couldn't tell if that was true.

                  1. re: sr44

                    As far as I know, his techniques book doesn't come with a dvd. Essential Pepin does.

                      1. re: sherrib

                        Also, Netflix has a lengthy, detailed Pepin techniques video from maybe 25 yrs ago.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Don't have netflix anymore so I went to amazon to see if I could find what you're referring to. I didn't find his techniques video but as a prime member I see that I can stream MANY of his videos right now at no charge.

                    1. re: kdlalib

                      My knife skills aren't chef-level, by any means, but I did learn a lot about how to use a knife safely and correctly from the old Frugal Gourmet episodes on PBS back in the day.

                      Perhaps I overstated. :-) I just meant being able to use a knife comfortably and know the difference between a mince, dice, julienne, etc. Being able to peel things without a peeler. Slice a loaf of bread evenly. Cut beef into cubes for stew. Slice chicken breasts for a stir fry. Etc.

                    2. re: Violatp

                      Many a good home cook has had mediocre knife skills but yeah I'm a knife guy and to me it's one of the skills that should be learned early on.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        I think sometimes the term "knife skills" gets used inappropriately.

                        There is the skill of properly using a knife to slice and dice without mixing in a finger or two, or how to take off the silverskin from a loin without making it look like the skin of a pineapple. Yes, those knife skills are important.

                        Then, sometimes I think people speak of knife skills in terms of how fast or deftly (or even aesthetically pleasing) one can perform the above mentioned tasks -- a la Martin Yan. Those types of skills are nice for cooking show demonstrations, but not so critical for the home cook -- be they beginner or seasoned vet.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Agreed but what I really meant was in many parts of the world it's not uncommon for the home cook to stand with a paring knife and cut items in hand for meal prep using a cutting board more for meat/protein prep and turn out incredible food

                            1. re: scubadoo97

                              That's what I do in my "part" of the world to this day.

                          2. re: scubadoo97

                            I just ordered a stainless steel finger guard to teach my 7 year old grand daughter how to use a knife.

                          3. re: Violatp

                            "I find Bittman infuriatingly smug and I don't actually like his recipes."


                          4. Martha Stewart has a cooking school cookbook and videos on PBS that are really helpful. She covers basic things like roasting, braising and stock making. Everyday Cooking, a Martha Stewart prequel, has a lot of very simple but basic stuff to make with techniques entwined.

                            Julia Child is still available on various channels. The episodes with Jacques Pepin are more useful since he tends to disagree with her on many points. His later, solitary, episodes are equally useful.

                            There is a lot (LOT) of useful information on Youtube.

                            Keep the questions coming.

                            P.S. I like Bittman. What may seem like smugness is (I think) a consequence of self-discovery. Most of his recipes are simple and good.

                            21 Replies
                            1. re: sr44

                              Martha Stewart is a wonderful suggestion. I have not seen her cooking school cookbook, but I bet it is thorough and marvelous. She has a lovely baking book as well. If OP wanted to venture that way, it would be a fine choice.

                              Once you get some confidence, head to the library, check out some ethnic cooking books, find a recipe that does not look overly daunting and with ingredients maybe a little unfamiliar, but available and give it a go. Invite a few friends over and have them taste. It is more fun if you have victims... er... guinea pigs... er.... friends to share your fine abilities with!

                              Once you find a book or a cuisine you want to really explore, you can buy a book that pleases you.

                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                Martha Stewart's Cooking School is currently running on PBS and PBS Create - several times a week on the latter.
                                It's geared toward the novice cook. I could take exception with her on some minor things, like suggesting discarding the fat skimmed from the chicken and beef stocks. Her Mom fried potatoes and onions in that fat, she surely does (or has), and I'm sure I'm in the majority of Chowhound home cooks when I save and use it. But the basic info is solid.

                                Jacques Pepin's shows are on the same stations and he, too, is a born teacher. It pays to study how he holds and wields his knives.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I wonder if she tells people to do that because the powers that be frown on the eating of animal fat.

                                  OP- save and use the yummy animal fat. Food tastes better with some fat. SOME. I skim fat from stock and freeze it. Awesome matzo balls!

                                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                    I recently watched Martha's Cooking School. I'm a fairly experienced cook so I didn't glean a lot of useful info from it, but it took me a lot longer to learn all that stuff than if I'd had the show available when I was just starting. Highly recommended.

                                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                      Do you just put it in a freezable container, like tupperware? Does bacon fat count? We love bacon in our house, so that would be most readily available.

                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                        I usually put it nto a tupperware container and if there is a lot of headspace, I put a piece of cling wrap over the fat. It probably isn't necessary but I do it because I cannot stand the thought of tasting freezer smell.

                                        Bacon fat can be put in the freezer no problem. It can also be stored for months in the fridge. Some people filter it to get the bits out, I cook mine in the oven usually so the bits are really minute (or I would fish them out and toss them down the gullet) - so I don't strain.

                                        We stand united in the love of all things bacon.

                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                          I leave some on top of stock I'm going to freeze to slow down freezer burn.

                                      2. re: greygarious

                                        +1 for Jacques. Even though i feel like i am a pretty good cook, i always enjoy watching him, and often pick up something.

                                    2. re: sr44

                                      BTW all the episodes of Child's The French Chef are available on Amazon Instant Video, and they are free if you have a Prime account. I watch a couple almost every day :)

                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                        Does her chicken handling ever so slightly freak you? She slings them all around the kitchen. My mom is Julia jr. with the poultry. When she is not looking I sanitize her knives, cutting board, cabinets, counters and fridge.

                                        Yep. Off topic. Keep it clean OP. Hey and also since people are talking knife skills - start your knife collection by getting a decent knife. Research it and then go talk and get a feel for them. I like a good 8" Wusthof chefs. Hubs a 10" not sure of the brand. But that can be a thread all its own. Honing each time and sharpening regularly.

                                        1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                          her shows were filmed (for the most part - not the later episodes with Jacques Pepin) before industrial chicken farming and production had really become prevalent....and to a degree, before there was really a deep understanding of foodborne illness...

                                          So it was fine by the standards of the day, but is unnerving given the knowledge (and the risks of our food production system) that we have today.

                                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                            Ha, yes. Or the other day I was watching her do a leg of lamb. She trimmed up the leg on a board, then moved the leg over to a pan, and then started setting all kinds of other stuff on the board where she had been trimming, and of course no hand washing was going on, just a quick wipe on the towel. But knowing it was filmed 40 years ago helped calm me a bit haha.

                                            But yes, I agree, keep it clean. I have separate plastic boards for cutting meat, and am freakish about washing my hands. My mom is a microbiologist so I was taught at an early age.

                                            And another agreement on the knife. I use my 10" Global chefs knife for 90% of my kitchen tasks, and a Global paring knife for the rest. No need for "sets". I took a beginners knife class at a cooking store in Chicago, and we got to test out a bunch of different kinds, which is how I landed on the Global. It was around $100 but well worth the investment.

                                            1. re: juliejulez

                                              Are those the knives with the little indentation pocks on the handle?

                                              1. re: Sal Vanilla


                                                I have small hands and these are nice and light so they work out well for me. The big Wusthofs etc made my hand very tired even after a short time, probably because the handles were large and heavy so I had to grip harder.

                                            2. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              We got what seems like a nice Henckels knife set for our wedding 7 years ago. That's worked for us, so far.

                                              What do you use to sanitize your kitchen equipment? Just soap and water?

                                              1. re: kdlalib

                                                Not Sal, but I use a few things. Dishsoap and hot water for dishes, knives, etc. For counters and my stove (I have smooth top electric, blech) I usually spray with 409 and wipe with a cloth. I keep tons of dishcloths around for easy cleanup. I like the "flour sack" kind, or these kind from Ikea I also keep those Clorox wipes around to clean up stuff like spilled chicken "juice" that I wouldn't really want sitting on a cloth. And of course hand soap for your hands :) I use a Softsoap one that's antibacterial for kitchen, it smells like lemons.

                                                1. re: kdlalib

                                                  Keep it sharp and it should work for you for a long time. Still happily using the Henckels chef knife I got thirty years ago.

                                                  1. re: ellabee

                                                    How often do you recommend sharpening your knives?

                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                      I'd suggest anytime they don't perform they way you want them to

                                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                                        The knife enthusiasts on this forum may disagree, but my advice for the ordinary home cook is to get a honing steel (a metal one), and use it before any prep session involving more than one item. What honing does is re-straighten the thin edge on your knife, which gets curled over from repeated chopping and rocking.

                                                        Actual sharpening (with whetstones that remove metal and create an edge) I leave to a professional, and I get it done once every year or two. In our small town, the owner of a cookware store does it well and cheaply. Regular honing can help prolong the time between sharpenings -- I can always detect the improvement from honing.

                                                2. re: juliejulez

                                                  Thank you! I didn't realize that. Awesome!

                                              2. Cooking is always more interesting when you're making something you love to eat. Use whatever cookbook you find fascinating, or find a recipe online for something you've always wanted to make - and follow each recipe to the letter.

                                                Read the recipe all the way through before beginning.
                                                Get your ingredients together & prepped before starting cooking (i.e. make sure onions are chopped, garlic minced, etc.)
                                                Make sure the pan/oven is preheated if that is specified.
                                                Don't skip steps or take short cuts as you're trying a new recipe for the first time.

                                                After you've made something a few times, you'll start to get a feel for ways the recipe can be adapted according to your tastes, or what is (or isn't) in the fridge or pantry.

                                                Be patient with yourself - when you learn a new language, you start with short sentences and simple vocabulary, and you expect to make mistakes. You learn from your mistakes, and with practice, your fluency increases. Cooking is a new language - you've got the basic vocab - keep using the support you need and you will be awesome!!

                                                Oh, and put on some awesome music, and pour yourself a glass of wine, and have a great time!!!!

                                                5 Replies
                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                      Just don't have too much before doing your chopping or playing with hot oil!!!
                                                      For me, cooking is one of my favourite ways to spend a day off or to help me relax after a long day. Wine (in moderation!) is definitely one part of that...

                                                      1. re: hungryjoanne

                                                        i agree with hungryjoanne. learn to make what you love to eat!
                                                        every thing you learn to make will help you to learn a cooking technique or two.
                                                        i would recommend the following:
                                                        1. roast a chicken
                                                        2. roast a beef roast
                                                        3. make a beef stew.
                                                        you won't need any special equipment to make these.

                                                        your chef's knife is your best friend.