Essential Cooking Methods Everyone Should Know
If you’re learning to cook and feel intimidated by the language in your recipes, you are not alone. Learning the essential techniques and methods for cooking requires a small learning curve––but once you’ve mastered the basics, you can enjoy incorporating these new skills into all sorts of new recipes. Learning simple cooking techniques can help give you the confidence to try new recipes, master skills, and even create your own cooking specialties that you love to come back to. It’s normal to have questions when you’re new to cooking jargon, and this article is here to help. Let’s translate common cooking lingo for you so that you can introduce these popular cooking techniques into your own recipes. Making food is even more fun when you have new methods and tools at your disposal.
Cooking techniques everyone should know
If you’ve ever travelled to a new country where you don’t know the language, you likely remember the feeling of panic that comes from not understanding a road sign or the question your waiter is asking you. Learning to cook can feel a lot like learning a new language too, especially when the terminology is new! Understanding these essential cooking methods will give you confidence in following new recipes and making them your own. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, you can confidently travel to new culinary landscapes from the comfort of your own home.
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To sauté (pronounced “saw-tay”) essentially means to fry quickly in a small amount of fat, over high heat. This is a dry cooking method that brings out new layers and complexities of flavour in the food you’re frying. Things happen quickly when you’re sautéeing so you’ll want to have everything chopped, prepared and ready to go for quick transitions. The translation of this word in French is “jump” so you’ll want to keep the food moving in the pan to avoid burning and maintain an even heat. It’s important to sauté in a single layer, so avoid piling or crowding in a tiny pan. If you pile too much into one pan, you may end up with more liquid or the heat can dissipate.
Here’s how to use this cooking technique properly:
Start by heating your pan over high heat.
Add a small amount of butter or fat. You should notice it sizzling right away.
Once the fat you’ve added is hot, add the vegetable, protein, or whatever you’re sautéeing and allow it to brown evenly.
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Braising is another great essential cooking method to have in your cooking lexicon. This technique typically means to cook meat, fish, or vegetables slowly in a flavourful liquid to create a tender texture and bring out rich flavour. While braising can be used whenever you’re looking for soft, caramel-like texture, it’s best suited to tougher cuts of meat like a beef brisket. The item you’re braising is typically seared in a pan before braising. Braising is a technique that’s commonly used for meat, but you can also braise vegetables or other foods. The broth used for braising often thickens during cooking and can be used as a sauce for the meal afterwards.
How to braise:
Pick a pan or Dutch oven with some depth so your liquid doesn’t boil over. Set your oven to medium-high heat.
Drizzle butter, fat, or olive oil into the pan and sear the vegetables or meat on every side until evenly, lightly browned. Now remove the food from the pan and set it aside.
Add broth to the pan, or create your own by frying garlic, onions, shallots, or other spices in water or wine until they create an aromatic, rich liquid. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil.
Now add back in the vegetables and meat and let simmer on the stovetop or in an oven at 300°F.
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You may think you’ve already mastered chopping, but it’s important to learn the nuances of using a proper Chef’s Knife and chopping based on the recipe you’re using.
Purchase a sharp, high-quality knife
Having a proper knife that cuts cleanly through anything you need to chop will not only make cooking easier, but it’ll keep you safe. Check out our guide for essential cooking utensils to get set up with everything you’ll need for an effective beginner’s cooking setup.
Always chop away from yourself, and use a sturdy cutting board that won’t slip as you’re chopping. Secure the knife with one hand, and the food with the other. If you’re using a proper chef’s knife, ensure you’re holding it properly:
Wrap your index finger securely around the upper part of the blade, and loosely wrap your outer three fingers around the knife handle.
Your forefinger and thumb should be opposite one another, stabilizing the blade as you cut.
Learn chopping techniques
Everything you chop will require a new technique, but in general when you’re chopping garlic, onions, shallots, or vegetables you’ll want to cleanly cut off both ends and stems. Anything that looks brown can be cut off. Chopping off pointy ends also lets you chop more easily. You can use this onion-cutting guide as a great example to follow for most vegetables.
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Poaching is a slow, wet cooking method that uses hot liquid to cook food without adding extra fat. You’ve likely had a poached egg, but poaching also works well for chicken, vegetables, and some other fruits and delicate proteins. Poaching lets the food you’re cooking keep it’s moisture and encases the flavour and texture using heat and moisture. Poaching techniques vary for different poaching methods, including:
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Once you’ve mastered browning butter, you’ll be able to use it in a variety of recipes to enrich the flavour of a meal. The technique of browning butter is simple but requires careful attention so that the butter doesn’t burn.
How to brown butter:
Start with a frying pan over medium heat and slowly add in butter.
Gently move and swirl the butter as it heats, and watch as it begins to get foamy or frothy. You’ll notice it turn yellow first, and then gradually it’ll move into a rich brown colour.
As soon as you notice the smell change to a more rich, nutty scent and the colour darkens, move the pan away from heat immediately.
Use browned butter in recipes like pastas, fish dishes, over vegetables, or cooled as a lovely treat on dinner rolls.
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Searing is often used in combination with other cooking techniques, like in braising meat. Searing is typically used for poultry, fish, or meat. It can be a lovely way to prepare shellfish or seafood like scallops to top a homemade pasta. The high heat and speed of this cooking technique lets you lock in flavourful juices. Pan searing creates a brown crust on the meat that is rich and delicious. For the best result, use a heavy cast-iron or stainless steel skillet.
Tips for proper searing:
First, preheat your pan over high heat. It’s ready when a drop of water sizzles and dances on it.
Now take the pan off of the heat and add a fat or oil that does well in higher heat.
Make sure the meat or seafood you’re searing isn’t wet. If you’ve just rinsed it, dab it lightly with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. If your food is wet, you’ll end up boiling instead of searing.
Now return the pan to high heat and drop the food into the pan. With searing you don’t want to move around the food in the pan. Wait until it’s golden brown and then flip it over until a light crust forms on both sides.
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Broiling technique uses direct, intense, radiant heat to brown food and bring out a rich flavour. Broiling differs slightly depending on the kind of oven you have. You’ll want to pay close attention to the food you’re broiling to ensure that it doesn’t burn. Broiling can be combined with other cooking techniques like baking; sometimes when you’re roasting a chicken, a recipe will call for broiling as a final step to add a delicious brown crust to the meat.
Consider these tips when broiling:
Take a look at your oven. You should see a button that says “broil.” It may have a default heat setting. You’ll notice this is usually much higher than the average oven temperature.
Most ovens default to 500º Fahrenheit for broiling, and take 5-10 minutes to reach full heat.
You may want a thinner pan or a broiling pan with holes in it to broil food properly on all sides. A cast iron skillet also does the trick.
Watch closely! Most recipes won’t ask you to broil anything for more than ten minutes, as foods can burn easily at such a high temperature. Keep children or pets away from the kitchen while you’re broiling to avoid injury.
Use oven mitts and exercise extra caution when removing food from the oven.
Get cooking with Boomerang’s online classes
Our online community at Boomerang is a great place to source inspiration for your next great recipe from the comfort of your home. Join our weekly discussion group, and explore culinary classes, get set up with the baking tools you need, bring questions to ask a professional chef, try new ideas, and make new friends. Sign up for Boomerang and check out some of our cooking and culinary workshops coming up:
Create your own Colourful Pasta
Bake delicious Hot Cross Buns for Easter
Our community members love to share ideas, tips and valuable insights. Whether you’re looking to try something new or develop skills you already have, our community learns by doing. Join us today, and let’s get cooking!
This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or its affiliates.