10 (+ 2) Commandments of Cooking Well

A while ago I wrote about how important it is to learn to cook, for all sorts of good reasons; not least that once you can cook you can eat exactly what you fancy whenever you like. That article is here.

These “commandments” might help …

1. Learn to use a knife.

Get a good sized chef’s knife, 8” is just about perfect. I very much favour the kind of knife known as Santoku but the traditional shape may work better for you. Once you are adept at using it prep time will really speed up.

With enough practice (say 30 years) you will able to slice onions like this without looking! This guy here can help.

Whilst on the subject, do keep your knives sharp because they are safer that way! It may seem a strange thing to say but with a sharp knife little pressure is needed and there is much less risk of the knife slipping. Furthermore good knife skills removes the need for all sorts of kitchen gadgets and knick knacks, many of which are more than adequately replaced by said sharp knives.

2. Use Real Food if humanly possible (which of course it is)!

Use fresh fruit and vegetables (except perhaps peas which are actually great from frozen) whenever possible and certainly not tinned green veg, fruit, mushrooms or potatoes. Tinned beans such as chickpeas, kidney beans etc. are fine and so are tomatoes although I prefer these in a tetrapack or whatever it’s called as I don’t fancy the thought of acidy tomatoes reacting with the lining of the can. That’s not a commandment, however, just a thought.

Avoid processed stuff such as the American sliced “cheese” that goes on burgers, use butter rather than margarine, make your own salad dressing (see here), don’t compromise on quality.

3. Read and Understand a Recipe Before you start cooking it.

I haven’t got much else to say about this — just do it!

4. Know your weights and measures.

Recipes may well be written using metric or imperial measurements or the American cup system. If you are not familiar with the method used then avail yourself of Google and look it up before you start or maybe print off a set of conversion charts and keep them in the kitchen.

5. Prepare everything possible in advance.

This is known in the trade as “mise en place” which to us cheffy types means having ready and easily to hand all the ingredients, ready prepared, that are needed to cook whatever is planned. This includes cut, sliced, chopped veggies, trimmed pieces of meat, ground spices, washed and chopped herbs, weighed and measured items and so on. This then enables you to cook quickly and smoothly once started, without interruption.

6. Always rest meats before serving.

By this I mean roast, grilled and pan fried meats, not so much stews (although they do benefit from cooking several hours or even a day or two before serving so that the flavours can merge and develop). The reason is that whilst resting the meat relaxes, becomes more tender and any juices that have fled to the middle of the meat to escape the harsh heat flow back into the relaxed protein and make it juicier. Rest roasts for up to half an hour (in a warm-ish place,loosely covered with foil), steaks and chops for 5–10 minutes or so in a warm place.

7 . Waste nothing.

I love cooking with leftovers, if I have a bit of that, a tad of that and a smidgen of wotsit I can usually come up with something worth eating. Even the smallest leftover, scrap or trimming can usually be turned into a garnish or cook’s treat or perhaps added to a freezer collection and used later.

8. Experiment ~ don’t be afraid of flavour.

At dinner with friends recently I was surprised and impressed to see our host, Tony, divide his coleslaw into seven small portions to each of which he added a little something; lime juice, hot sauce, a pinch of sugar, lots of black pepper, 2 things I can’t remember and Malibu rum! Now that’s the way to learn — respect!

I suggest you do the same or something similar, the more you cook and eat the more you will learn about what goes with what — play with your food!

9. Baking is a science — don’t experiment!

Successful baking relies on chemical reaction in the presence of heat and should not be messed with unless you are very confident. Stick to recipes here — you can, of course, play with fillings, toppings and accompaniments.

Successful baking relies on chemical reaction in the presence of heat and should not be messed with unless you are very confident. Stick to recipes here — you can, of course, play with fillings, toppings and accompaniments.

10. Taste before serving.

Season at the start of cooking (salt steaks and roasted meats before cooking, add salt to potatoes before boiling, add seasonings according to the recipe and so on) but make bloody sure to taste and possibly season the finished dish again before serving. This is, in fact, why so many recipes end with the instruction “taste and season”!

Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.”
William Shakespeare

Adjust the flavour to make you happy; maybe a little more salt or a touch of hot sauce, a pinch of sugar, a grind of black pepper or a squeeze of lemon. Be guided by your palate.

11. Serve food attractively.

Not only is this more pleasing but “they do say “ that it actually stimulates the appetite. It’s not necessary to arrange a plate to look like a Picasso but I am not averse to making sure the prettiest lettuce leaf is on top, cutting a nice shape or adding a suitable drizzle.

12. Clean as you go.

It is a good idea, especially in a small kitchen, to clean as you go so as to have a useable and pleasant working area. I agree with this but, on the other hand, I tend to bung it all in my large sink and then wash up in the morning. For me the evening meal marks the end of the day and the start of relaxation time and I have never, ever regretted leaving the washing up till morning.

One final piece of advice …

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Originally published at suddenlunch.blogspot.co.uk on July 21, 2014.