Whether you have aspirations of becoming head chef at a fancy restaurant or just want to create great cuisine at home, there are some cooking skills that every chef should master. From making a roux or mirepoix to learning how to operate a charcoal grill or the proper way to make whipped cream, these techniques will help you become a more well-rounded chef.
While taking time out to master cooking techniques might seem boring, it’s well worth the time. I can tell you from personal experience that any time you spend refining your cooking skills will ultimately save you time during cooking, not to mention help ensure a successful result. Mastering these 25 vital cooking skills will assist in cooking endeavors for years to come.
Cooking 101: Vital Cooking Skills. Here, we’ll explain 25 vital cooking skills, and offer guidance and resources on how to take your knowledge to the next step.
- How to make a roux. You’ll rue the day if you never learn how to make a proper roux. Composed of equal parts of flour and fat, a roux isn’t a mixture which is intended to be eaten on its own. However, it is the base of many classic soups and sauces. By learning how to make a roux, you’ve mastered a key ingredient in creating appropriately thick, flavorful sauces.
- How to make a mirepoix. Pronounced “meer-pwah” in your Frenchiest accent, a mirepoix is a melange of sauteed vegetables which are used as a flavor base for all sorts of dishes, from stocks and soups to stir-fried dishes and even roasted meats. Typically, the classic mirepoix mixture includes a ratio of 50% onions, and 25% each of carrots and celery.
- How to salt your food. Learning how to properly salt your food is a vital cooking skill. Salt doesn’t just impart flavor: it can also play a myriad of other roles in cooking, including sealing moisture in dishes and acting as a natural preservative. Different dishes require different salting techniques; this post is a fantastic starting point on how to do it correctly.
- How to sear meat. Searing meat involves heating it briefly on a sizzling hot surface. Sometimes searing is the sole method used to cook meat, such as with some cuts of steak or certain types of seafood; other times, it is a precursor to a longer and slower cooking method such as braising. Searing is not a step to be skipped: the connection of meat to hot surface forms a caramelized crust which not only seals in moisture and flavor, but helps the meat maintain a pleasing texture.
- How to roast vegetables. Roasting vegetables is not difficult to do, but to do it correctly requires a little know-how. Details matter, such as the spacing of the vegetables in the pan, how evenly they are cut, and the temperature at which you cook. This post details the basics on how to roast vegetables perfectly every time.
- How to roast a chicken. A perfectly roasted chicken is the stuff of Sunday supper dreams. Learning the details that make a perfectly roasted chicken are worth taking the time to learn, from flavoring the chicken to how long to cook it, to how to monitor for doneness. This post details the art of perfectly roasting and carving a chicken.
- How to make pie crust. Many people have a fear of pie crust. Don’t be one of them: learn how to make a perfect pie crust by mastering mixing, prepping your ingredients, and baking it properly. By taking the time to get over your fear of pie crust, you have a delicious life of pot pies, quiches, and of course dessert pies ahead of you.
- How to choose the proper fat. You might think that fat is fat, and you can substitute coconut oil for butter or olive oil for lard upon a whim. It’s not always quite so simple, though. Different fats react differently in cooking, and have different smoke points. Educating yourself on the different smoke points and how to use different cooking fats will make your cooking far more refined.
- How to scramble eggs. Everyone knows how to scramble an egg, but few know how to do it well. Small details make a big difference between serviceable and extraordinary eggs, from the temperature of the pan to how frequently and vigorously you stir. This post details some of the common mistakes in making scrambled eggs and how to fix them to get delicious results every time.
- How to marinate. A marinade (the mixture used to marinate) is a magical thing. While there are thousands of different marinade recipes out there, the basic principle is the same: it’s an acidic mixture which is used to soak a food (usually meat) before cooking. The marinade not only imparts a ton of flavor, but also helps break down the enzymes in the meat, kicking off the cooking process before you even get to work, and ensuring that your dinner will be tender and flavorful, not tough and bland.
- How to cook pasta. It might seem as straightforward as “add pasta to boiling water, then strain”, but there’s an art to getting pasta right. Little things, like salting the water, cooking to a perfect al dente, and not overcrowding the pot, can help ensure that your pasta is perfect and not mushy. This post details all things pasta, from choosing the right type to even making your own.
- How to use knives properly. Do you just choose the closest knife and try to hack your food into submission? There’s a better way. Proper knife skills are something that even some accomplished chefs lack, and it causes them extra anguish and time spent on menial tasks. Learning proper knife skills can streamline your cooking in a huge way, and keep you from losing a finger! This free class offers helpful how-to tips on proper knife skills.
- How to braise. There’s a method of cooking that can transform even the toughest cuts of meat into a fork-tender delicacy: braising. Braising is a method of cooking a food in liquid for an extended period of time over low heat. The slow cooking process allows the ingredients to combine into rich, concentrated flavors. To hone your braising skills, try our apple cider braised short ribs recipe.
- How to caramelize onions. This involves cooking onions slowly, over low or medium-low heat, with some sort of fat: butter, oil, or a combination. While the onions cook, the natural sugars in the onions caramelize, releasing an intense flavor and rendering the onions to a soft consistency with a shimmering, translucent finish and a deep brown hue. Caramelized onions add a fantastic flavor to dishes from soup to burgers, and are a good item to have in your cooking repertoire.
- How to blanch and shock vegetables. It might sound like something out of a horror movie, but blanching and shocking are really quite tame kitchen tasks. When preparing vegetables ahead of time, blanching (a technique involving cooking items briefly in boiling, salted water) and shocking (plunging the blanched items into ice water to stop the cooking process) can help vegetables keep their crunch and an appetizing texture. These tips on blanching and shocking vegetables will help you on your journey.
- How to make stock. Stock, be it beef, vegetable, or chicken, is an invaluable item to have in any chef’s kitchen. While it’s most famously a soup base, it can be used for so much more, imparting flavor and moisture to dishes as varied as casseroles to baked beans. The flavor is far superior when you make your own; this easy chicken stock recipe proves that it’s an accessible technique for chefs of all levels.
- How to make simple salad dressings. While most people buy salad dressing, making your own is actually quite easy, and the results are far more flavorful than anything you’ll find in the grocery store. Whether it’s a simple homemade vinaigrette or a unique yogurt-infused DIY ranch dressing, learning how to make your own salad dressing is the mark of a good chef.
- How to activate yeast. Activating yeast isn’t difficult–basically, it involves combining yeast with sugar and water. But it can be a bit finicky, and it does involve being particular about the temperature of your water. Most recipes will call for “lukewarm” water, but what does that mean, exactly? Aim for between 95 and 115 degrees F; anything higher, and you may kill the yeast. Learn more about how to activate yeast.
- How to knead. There’s a proper way to knead, and you need to know it. According to King Arthur Flour, you should start with floured hands, and then follow this method:
“Fold the outside edge of the dough over onto itself toward you and push the dough away gently with the heels of your hands. After every push, turn the dough a quarter of the way around and fold it toward you again.” King Arthur Flour also offers helpful tips on bread-making from start to finish.
- How to cook fish. A lot of people are scared to cook fish, and it’s easy to see why: when fish is not cooked right, it tastes (and looks) really, really wrong. In general, fish is far more delicate than cuts of meat or poultry, and should be treated appropriately. This post offers helpful tips on how to cook salmon which carry over to many other types of fish.
- How to use a charcoal grill. Grilled food is one of life’s great pleasures. Whether it’s hamburgers, salmon, corn, or even pineapple you’re grilling, learning how to properly care for and operate a charcoal grill is a cooking skill that will serve you for life. This post deals with tips for proper charcoal grilling.
- How to ice a cake. We eat with our eyes first. Learning how to ice a cake can help make your dessert course as beautiful as it tastes. Even without going into fancy decorating skills, you can learn the basics of frosting a cake, including how to adhere layers, apply a crumb coat, and how to spread the icing in an even, appealing way.
- How to make whipped cream. Store-bought whipped cream doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing, so it’s mind boggling why so many people buy it when it’s so easy to make. Proper prep, including chilling your ingredients and using the right type of cream, will help ensure success. Perfect whipped cream is really just a matter of paying attention to detail.
- How to caramelize sugar. I’m not going to lie: caramelizing sugar can be tricky, especially if you’re adding cream to the mixture, which causes a hissing, bubbling reaction that can be very alarming to the newbie. However, once you’ve done it a few times you realize that it’s actually quite easy: just keep an eye on it and take it slow. This step by step tutorial will guide you through the process of caramelizing sugar.
- How to melt chocolate. Two words: double boiler. It is your friend when melting chocolate. The direct heat of a saucepan can easily scorch chocolate, which probably isn’t the effect you’re going for in your cookies or cake. These tips on how to melt chocolate properly will set you up for a lifetime of delicious desserts.
Conclusion: If these cooking skills seem fairly easy to master, that’s because they are; it’s just that few people take the time to learn the proper methods. By investing a little time to master these techniques, you’ll set yourself up for a fabulous food career, be it in a commercial setting or just in your own home.
What is the most difficult cooking skill you’ve ever mastered?