Anyone can cook, but there is more to cooking than simply throwing ingredients together and hoping for the best. You have to understand basic cooking terms and techniques. Knowing how to prepare meals, and in what order, can help you get the timing just right, and prevent things from cooling too quickly. Once you have the basics down, you can improve the flavor and texture of your meals with various sauces, herbs, and other seasonings.


Understanding Basic Cooking Techniques

  1. Understand boiling. The term boiling means to heat water until it reaches a temperature where it bubbles and turns to vapor. The temperature at which boiling occurs varies according to atmospheric pressure, but it is usually around 100°C (212°F). Boiling food involves immersing the food in boiling water until cooked.
    • Boiling is quite a violent cooking method, as the bubbles of vapor moving through the water can damage delicate food. As a result, it is a cooking method best reserved for only a few specific foods, such as dried pasta and boiled eggs.
    • Boiling vegetables in water used to be quite common, but nowadays people tend to avoid doing so as many water soluble vitamins can leak out of food during boiling, lessening their nutritional value. If you do cook vegetables by boiling, try to serve some of the cooking liquid as part of the dish in order to maintain nutritional value.
    • Poaching is the gentlest form of cooking in water, and is appropriate for cooking items like fish and eggs. It occurs at temperatures between 60°C and 90°C (140°F & 190°F).
    • Simmering is probably the most common method of cooking in liquid, and is used for most stews and sauces. It occurs between 87°C and 94°C (190°F & 200°F).
    • Slow boiling is the term used before water reaches a full rolling boil at 100°c. It is slightly more vigorous than a simmer, and occurs at 95°C.[1]
  2. Understand sautéing. Sautéing is a quick cooking method which involves cooking food in a pan, over a high heat, in a small amount of fat. It imparts a lot of flavor to food, and is perfect for cooking tender cuts of meat and chunks of vegetables.
    • It is very important that a high-quality pan is used for sautéing. A good pan will heat the food evenly and be very responsive to temperature changes. A heavy stainless steel pan, with a layer of aluminum in the core and heavy metal plating is ideal.
    • In terms of fat, oil or butter can be used. Olive oil or canola oil are most commonly used. Butter will impart great flavor to food, but will burn quicker than oil.
    • With sautéing, the most important rule is that both the pan and the fat be heated to a high temperature before adding the food. Otherwise, the food won't cook properly - it will absorb some of the fat and stick to the pan. To check if the pan is hot enough, a good tip is to add a couple of drops of water to the pan - if they sizzle vigorously and evaporate within a couple of seconds, the pan is hot enough.
    • Once the food is in the pan, it is important to keep it moving. The term sauté actually means "jump" in French, so keep tossing the food as you cook. This ensures that the food cooks evenly and that the pan stays hot. You will need room in the pan in order to toss food properly, so avoid overcrowding.
    • In terms of foods that can be sautéed, almost anything goes - with the exception of thick or tough cuts of meat (shank or brisket), entire roasts or chickens, or hard root vegetables. This is due to the fact that these types of foods will be burned on the outside long before they are cooked in the middle.
    • However, any small, tender cuts of meat will respond well to sautéing, along with the majority of vegetables. Just make sure that the food is chopped into equal-sized pieces, to ensure even cooking.
    • Some vegetables will cook quicker than others, even if they are cut to the same size - account for this by either chopping the harder vegetable into even smaller pieces, or by adding the faster-cooking vegetable to the pan at a later point.[2]
  3. Understand frying. Frying is very similar to sautéing, in that the food is cooked in a hot pan with oil. As with sautéing, it is very important that both the pan and the oil are heated to the correct temperature before cooking. However, there are several differences between frying and sautéing, along with different forms of frying itself, so it is worth noting the differences between each.
    • Pan frying is very similar to sautéing. It involves cooking food in a pan, using oil. However, pan frying is typically used for larger pieces of meat - such as chicken breasts, steaks, pork chops and fillets of fish - which have not been cut into pieces. It is also done at a lower heat than sautéing, to ensure that the larger food items do not burn on the outside before they are cooked in the middle.
    • Shallow frying is the same as pan frying, except for the amount of oil used. With pan frying the pan is simply coated thinly with oil, whereas with shallow frying the oil typically reaches about halfway up the sides of the food being cooked. This method is used for cooking food such as fried chicken, battered shrimp and Make Eggplant Parmigiana.
    • Deep frying involves completely immersing the food in hot oil. With this type of frying, the food does not need to be flipped over halfway through cooking, as the coating of oil allows it to cook evenly on all sides. It is used to cook items such as battered foods, french fries and donuts.
    • Stir frying, a staple of Chinese cooking, is more or less the same as sautéing - the food is cut into small pieces and cooked in oil in a hot pan. The only difference is the type of pan used; stir frying is done in a wok - which has a deep bowl with gently sloping sides and is made from thin metal.[3]
  4. Understand Broil and grilling. Broiling and grilling are both dry cooking methods which involve heating food with an open flame. The only difference between broiling and grilling is that with broiling the heat source is above the food, whereas with grilling the heat comes from below.
    • With grilling and broiling, the food is cooked by the hot air produced by an open flame. However, air is actually a poor conductor of heat, so the food needs to be placed quite close to the heat source. This means that the food cooks quickly on the outside, making grilling or broiling a good option for tender cuts of meat, chicken and fish.
    • Due to the hot and dry nature of this cooking method, a lot of foods will be marinated before cooking to ensure that they stay moist and flavorful. Marinating means soaking food in a seasoned (and often acidic) liquid before cooking. It is done in order to tenderize meat and add flavor to various foods.
    • The food is usually placed on some kind of grid or grate, which allows the fat to drip off and produces the distinctive, striped grill-marks that this cooking method is known for.
    • The food will need to be turned or flipped over once during grilling/broiling to ensure it is evenly cooked on both sides. Other than that, the food should not be moved during cooking.
    • Barbecuing is almost the same as grilling, except that the flame is produced by burning wood or coal, giving food a distinctive smoky flavor.[4]
  5. Understand microwaving. Microwaving is a very convenient cooking method which requires little skill. The microwave works using electromagnetic waves which cause water molecules in food to vibrate. This vibration produces heat which then cooks the food.[5] Although most cooking novices will at least be familiar with the microwave, there are a few health and safety features you should be aware of:
    • Never put metal cookware in the microwave. The electromagnetic waves will not be able to penetrate the metal and may produce electrical sparks that can damage your microwave. The same thing goes for aluminum foil.
    • Any foods that have skins - such as potatoes and hot dogs - should be pierced with a fork before cooking. Otherwise, steam pressure will build up inside the food, causing it to explode inside the microwave.
    • Food should always be covered with a microwave safe lid during cooking - this will prevent splattering and help the food to heat evenly.
    • Sometimes there may be "cold spots" in the microwave, which prevent the food from cooking evenly. To avoid this, you should move the food around during cooking - pausing the microwave to stir sauces, flip over meat, or rearrange vegetables.[6]
    • Contrary to popular belief, microwaving food does not cause a significant loss of nutrients.[7] However, many people still choose to abstain from using the microwaves for cooking, using it only for Reheat Frozen or Chilled Food, defrosting or making Make Microwave Popcorn.
    • However, if you are in a rush, most recipes can be Adapt Conventional Recipes for Microwave Cooking to use the microwave instead of more traditional cooking methods.
  6. Understand roasting. Roasting is a dry heat cooking method, which involves cooking food, uncovered, on a roasting pan in the oven. It is most often associated with large cuts of meat - whole chickens and turkeys, lean cuts of pork, lamb and beef, fillets of fish - but also works very well with vegetables.
    • With roasting, the main focus should be on the flavor of the food itself - not on sauces or accompaniments, like in a stew or braise. The outside of the meat or vegetables should turn golden brown throughout cooking, while the insides remain moist.
    • A good roasting pan should be used, which is placed on the middle shelf of the oven. Convection ovens are perfect for roasting in, as they allow hot air to circulate, resulting in evenly browned meat and vegetables.[8]
    • When roasting meat, many cooks believe that the meat should be suspended slightly above the bottom of the pan, to prevent it from cooking in its own juices. A roasting rack can be used for this purpose, or the meat can be placed on top of a pile of vegetables, serving the same purpose but also adding flavor.
    • Food should never be covered when roasting. If the food is covered, it will cook in its own steam rather than the dry heat of the oven. However, you don't want the meat to dry out either, so leaner cuts of meat may need to be basted throughout cooking. Basting involves coating the outside of the meat with butter, oil, pan drippings or some form of sauce during cooking.
    • The best way to tell if a meat has been roasted to perfection is to use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. Each type of meat has an ideal internal temperature, which should be indicated on whatever recipe you are following.[9]
    • When roasted meat is taken out of the oven, it should be allowed to rest for a few minutes before carving. This allows it to finish cooking and "relax" slightly, making it easier to slice.
    • For more specific roasting techniques see: How to Roast a Chicken, How to Roast a Turkey, How to Roast Vegetables, How to Cook Roast Beef, How to Cook Roast Lamb, Roast a Duck, How to Roast Baby Potatoes, How to Roast a Pork Loin, How to Roast Chestnuts.
  7. Steaming Food. Steaming is a moist heat cooking method, which uses the heat from steam to cook food. It is a very gentle form of cooking, making it a great option for delicate foods such as fish and vegetables.
    • Water changes state as it boils, converting from liquid to vapor. This means that steaming occurs at the boiling point of water - 212°F at sea level. Despite such high temperatures, steaming is one of the most gentle forms of cooking as the food is not agitated by bubbling water.
    • Steaming is also a very healthy form of cooking, as unlike boiling, simmering, etc., the steam does not leach nutrients from the food. As a result, steaming food may preserve up to 50% more nutrients than other forms of cooking. In addition, steamed food does not require any form of fat to be added as a cooking aid, which cuts down the calorie content of the food.[10]
    • Steaming can be done using a traditional stacked bamboo or plastic steamer on the stovetop, but it is also possible to steam food by simply boiling water in a pot and balancing a roasting rack or colander on top to hold the food. Steamer inserts (which fit onto most pots) are also available at most kitchenware stores.
    • Although water is normally used for steaming vegetables, it is possible to use other liquids when cooking fish and white poultry in order to add flavor. Chicken, beef and vegetable stocks, fruit juices and wine can all make flavorful substitutes, and any combination of herbs and spices can be added to the cooking liquid. Then, as the steam rises, the flavors from the cooking liquid will permeate through the food.[11]
    • Steaming is a relatively fast cooking method, since it is conducted at such a high temperature. Most vegetables will cook in under 5 minutes, while fish and other white meats will take between 3 and 5 minutes, depending on thickness.
  8. Understand braising. Braising is a moist cooking method which can turn large, tough cuts of meat into a juicy, tender dish. It is achieved by first searing the meat (or tough vegetables) in a pan with fat, and then slow cooking it in liquid for several hours.
    • Braising is a great option if you're looking for a cheap, tasty dish which can feed a whole family. The braising process is easy enough, but it can take several hours for the food to achieve the right consistency, so it is not something that can be done in a hurry. However, the food requires very little attention during this time, so it's possible to just leave it cooking in the oven while you go about your day.
    • To braise, you first need to sear the meat in fat in a hot pan. This browns the outside of the meat, giving it flavor and making it more visually appealing. The meat is then placed in a heavy, oven-proof dish, a dutch oven, or a slow cooker. You will need to de-glaze the pan using wine, broth or some other liquid in order to scrape of small pieces of meat or fat that may have escaped. Add this liquid to the meat dish, along with the rest of the cooking liquid (usually some combination of stock, wine or fruit juice) which should reach about halfway up the meat. Cover the dish and place in a preheated oven (or turn on the slow cooker) and leave to cook for up to six hours, depending on the type of meat used.
    • Braising works best when the meat is cooked steadily at relatively low temperatures (around 150°C / 300°F) for long periods of time. Although braising can be done on the stove top, it is best done in the oven where the heat can surround the pot from all sides, thus ensuring even cooking.[12]
    • Braising works to tenderize meat using several processes. First, the heat breaks down the connective tissues that hold the meat together, turning them into collagen. Next, with heat, moisture and more time, the collagen turns into gelatin which eventually dissolves into the cooking liquid. While this is happening, the muscle fibers of the meat are squeezing moisture and flavor into the cooking liquid. But as time goes on, the muscle fibers will eventually relax and reabsorb moisture from the cooking liquid, leaving the meat tender and the sauce full of flavor.
    • The best cuts of meat to Braise Meat with include: top blade roasts, chuck eye roasts, seven bone roasts, ribs, brisket and shanks. These cuts are tougher and more fatty. Leaner cuts of meat have less connective tissue to break down, so braising them is a waste. It is also possible to braise chicken bones and thighs and large, firm fish.
    • In terms of vegetables suitable for braising, you should also go for tougher, more fibrous options such as celery, parsnip, squash, leeks, carrots, cabbage and beets.[13]
  9. Understand baking. Baking is a dry heat cooking method, which is almost the same as roasting. The major difference is that roasting tends to be done at higher heats than baking, and baking is usually associated with food items that require batters and doughs, such as bread, cookies, pies and muffins. Here are some things to remember when you bake:
    • Avoid over-mixing doughs and batters. One of the most common mistakes people make when baking is over-mixing doughs and batters. Over-mixing activates the gluten in flour, which makes baked goods firm and chewy rather than light and crumbly. To avoid this, mix batters using the lowest speed on your mixer or fold them gently by hand, until just combined. Don't worry if there are still a few lumps remaining - this won't affect the final result. Doughs should be mixed or kneaded a little as possible - there should still be streaks of flour and chunks of butter visible in the dough.[14]
    • Avoid using cold eggs and dairy products when baking. Cold eggs and dairy products don't bond well, which prevents air from becoming trapped in the mixture. This can result in dense, flat cakes and muffins, To avoid this, you should always remove eggs and dairy products from the refrigerator 30 minutes to an hour before baking, allowing them to reach room temperature. If you forget, warm up the eggs in a bowl of warm water and cut butter into small chunks and microwave for ten seconds.[15]
    • Don’t use liquid measuring cups to measure dry ingredients. Another common mistake people make when baking is using liquid measuring cups to measure dry ingredients, like flour. When using a liquid measuring cup to measure flour, you will need to press or tap the cup to level the flour and read the measurement. However this compacts the flour, giving you more than the recipe calls for, leading to tough, dry cakes and muffins. To avoid this, use a dry measurement cup with a flat top, which allows you to spoon the flour into the cup, then level it off with a knife.[16]
    • For more specific baking recipes see: Bake Cookies, Bake a Cake, Make Pie Crust, Make Muffins and Bake Bread. Also see: Bake Potatoes, Bake Fish, Make Pizza and Bake Chicken Breast.
  10. Understand common cooking terms. There are a large number of very specific cooking terms that you will come across when reading recipes. It is important to understand what these cooking terms mean. Definitions of some of the most common cooking terms are provided below:
    • Whip: Whipping a mixture means to beat it vigorously using a wire whisk or electric mixer in order to incorporate air and increase volume.
    • Zest: Zest is the colored outer skin of a citrus fruit. Therefore, in order to "zest" something, you need to remove this outer layer. This is done using a grater or fruit zester, which is rubbed over the sides of the fruit. When zesting, you should avoid the white layer of skin beneath the zest, as this can be bitter.
    • Knead: This is the term used to describe the pressing and folding of dough with the heels of your hands. Kneading develops the gluten in flour, allowing the dough to become smooth and elastic. This technique is used for bread doughs, and sometimes for scone and pastry doughs.
    • Fold: Folding is a method of gently mixing ingredients (like a cake batter) to ensure that the volume is not reduced. Is is best done in a bowl with a rubber spatula. The spatula is used to cut through the center of the mixture, bringing mixture from the bottom of the bowl to the surface. The bowl should be rotated as you fold, to ensure a uniform mixture.
    • Whisk: Whisking involves stirring or mixing ingredients using a wire whisk or fork. It allows air into the mixture, making it nice and light. It is not as vigorous an action as whipping.
    • Steep: Steeping means to submerge a food in water that's been heated to just below boiling point, allowing flavors and colors to emerge.
    • Score: Scoring something involves making shallow cuts on the surface of a food, usually in a diamond-shaped pattern. This is done to tenderize food, allow fat to escape, allow flavors to seep in, or simply for decoration.
    • Cook al dente: The term al dente means "to the tooth" in Italian and is used to describe pasta that has been cooked until tender, but still offers slight resistance when bitten into. It is how pasta should be cooked.
    • Reduce: To reduce a sauce means to boil it quickly so that some of it evaporates, thus decreasing the overall volume. The sauce that's left behind, which is thicker and has a more intense flavor, is known as a reduction.
    • Grease: To grease means to coat a pan or baking tray in a layer of butter or oil before cooking in order to stop the food from sticking.
    • Blanch: Blanching means to place fruit, vegetables or nuts in boiling water to partially cook them and to intensify flavor and color. They are then plunged into cold water to stop the cooking. Blanching can also help to remove the skins from items like tomatoes and almonds.
    • Baste: Basting involves rubbing a food with fat or other liquid during cooking to add moisture and flavor. It can be done using a basting brush or bulb.[17]

Planning and Preparing Meals

  1. Consult different recipes. This is optional, of course, but is the recommended route if you're learning how to cook. First, have a general idea of what it is you'd like to cook, then consult different cookbooks and online recipes to get an idea of the different variations on that dish.
    • Read through the ingredients and instructions carefully before you choose, in order to get a sense of the flavors and skills involved. This is important, as some recipes don't break things down well for beginners, and some just aren't good.
    • Get recipes from friends and family for dishes that you've tried (and loved). The benefit of doing this is that if you don't understand something in the recipe, you can call them and ask!
    • If you look online, choose recipes that have received good reviews or comments. Look for dishes that you have tried previously (perhaps, made by a friend, or when eating at a restaurant) so that you may be able to appreciate the flavor to judge the finer nuances of the dish.
    • As you get better at cooking, you'll experiment and make some discoveries of your own. You'll know you're officially a good cook when people start asking "How did you make this? It's delicious!" Keep your cooking skills sharp by experimenting with new ingredients and techniques and by keeping note of the discoveries you make in your very own recipe book.
  2. Gather the ingredients. Once you have decided on a recipe, it's time to start gathering the ingredients. Some you might have in your kitchen already - like spices, herbs, canned tomatoes and stock cubes - but others will require a trip to the grocery store.
    • Stay away from pre-prepared or frozen food products when shopping for ingredients, as these can add a great deal of fat, sugar, sodium and calories to your dishes. Opt instead for basic, natural ingredients which enable you to control the amount of fat, sugar and salt in your food. It might be slightly more work, but both the taste and nutritional value of the food you produce will improve greatly.
    • When shopping for fresh produce, be certain to take the time to ensure that the texture, colors, and quality of the food you buy is the best in the batch. Always buy the freshest, most high quality foods you can afford.This little touch can make the dining experience more robust and satisfying. You should also try to stick to cooking with foods that are currently in season, as that is when they taste their best.
    • If you're just starting to cook, don't substitute ingredients. The unfamiliar ingredient might interact with the other food in a way that you're not aware of and ruin the entire meal. When you become more experienced, you'll become better at predicting how a substitute ingredient will affect the cooking process and the final flavor.
  3. Prepare the food for cooking.The practice of getting all of your tools and ingredients together, prepared, and measured is called "mise en place" by professional chefs, and is considered essential to efficient cooking. Your "mise en place" should be ready and close at hand before the stove is turned on.
    • Wash and clean the food. Most food needs to be cleaned somehow, and usually just rinsing with water will suffice. Foods that are peeled should be washed before peeling to decrease chance of transferring chemicals and dirt from unpeeled area to peeled area.
    • Cut the food into uniform slices or pieces so that they cook evenly. There are a wide variety of cutting techniques--chopping, dicing, cubing, slicing, julienning, etc. The bigger the pieces, the longer they'll take to cook. To complicate things further, some types of food cook faster than others; since zucchini cooks faster than carrot, for example, you might want to cut the carrot into smaller pieces if they're going to be thrown in at the same time so that they're both finished cooking simultaneously.[18]
    • Add salt, pepper, herbs, or marinade as called for in the recipe (or to taste). Any number of herbs or spices can be used to increase the flavor of whatever you are cooking. These may need to be added before or after cooking. Just be sure to add a little rather than too much. You can always add more later. Be especially careful with salt; it is very difficult to fix a dish that is too salty.
    • Ferment. This is NOT recommended for beginners. Fermentation (e.g. leavening) is a complicated technique that can result in wonderful baked goods, but it's the domain of experienced (or at least intermediate) cooks who understand how to control and direct this biological process. You need to be exact with baking (until you understand how each ingredient and method works, then you can switch around to your own tastes), especially since what goes in the oven can't be added to.
  4. Preheat any cooking equipment.There are some small details in this step that are often overlooked.
    • Heat the water. If your recipe requires poaching, simmering or boiling, get the water to whichever state the recipe calls for and keep it there. Don't place a lid on the pot if you're poaching or simmering because the heat may increase to a boil.[19] Remove from heat if necessary if the water starts to get too hot.
    • Preheat the oven. Don't get impatient, or else you will most likely throw off your cooking times, since recipes are written assuming the oven is already preheated.[20] It usually takes an oven about 15 minutes to get to 350°F or 176°C, but every stove is different. Some models will beep or make a noise when the temperature is reached; otherwise, you might need to use an oven-safe thermometer to determine when it has reached the correct temperature.
    • Heat the pan before adding oil. Heating the pan alone causes the metal to expand, opening up tiny scratches so that oil can get in there. Also, if you add oil to a pan that is already hot, it'll get hotter faster, giving it less time to break down. After you add the oil and cover the entire pan, wait for it to start smoking before adding the food. If you toss your food in before the oil has heated sufficiently, it'll soak up the oil rather than cook in it. [18]

Improving Taste and Texture

  1. Season your food well. Seasoning your food with salt and pepper is the single, easiest but most important thing you can do to improve the taste of your food.
    • A dash of salt and pepper can really make the flavors of a dish come alive, bringing out the best in each individual ingredient.
    • If you're uncertain about quantities, or afraid of adding too much salt, the best thing you can do is taste! Add a little salt, taste, add a little more, taste...and so on, until the flavor is just right. It's how professional chefs do it.
    • The best types of salt to use are kosher salt for use during cooking, and sea salt for serving. The best type of pepper is freshly ground black pepper.
    • Sprinkle salt onto joints of meat or whole chicken before roasting, add a little to stews and sauces while cooking, and remember to generously salt the water when boiling pasta, rice and potatoes.
    • Be bold with your seasoning, and you'll never look back.[21]
  2. Use butter in your cooking. Butter adds a delicious, creamy, slightly nutty flavor to food and should be featured heavily in all good cooking and baking.
    • Butter can be used as a cooking medium, like in sautéing, where it both complements and enhances the natural flavors. It can be used as the base for sauces, where it adds a wonderfully smooth, creamy texture. Or it can be used in baking, where it provides a wonderfully flaky, melt-in-your-mouth quality.
    • Where possible, use unsalted butter in your cooking. The only reason salt is added to most butters is to preserve their shelf life, but if you are using butter frequently this should not be an issue. Using unsalted butter ensures that there is no more salt added to the recipe than strictly necessary, which is especially important for baking as excess salt can lead to toughness.
    • The only drawback with using butter as a cooking medium is that it has a lower smoking point (130°C / 265° F) than other fats, such as olive or safflower oil, making it difficult to work with at high temperatures. For this reason, clarified butter (pure butter fat with milk solids and water removed) is sometimes used instead, as it is the milk solids that cause regular butter to smoke.[22]
  3. Make use of sauces. A good sauce can transform a dull, flavorless dish into something much more exciting and delicious. By learning a few basic sauce recipes, you can kick your cooking credentials up a few notches, with very little effort.
    • Béchamel sauce: this is a white, creamy sauce which forms the basis of many dishes - including Make a Potato and Vegetable Gratin, Make a Cheese Soufflé and numerous pasta sauces.
    • Make Velouté Sauce : This is another simple sauce made by combining a roux with a flavored stock. Depending on the flavor of the stock, this sauce can be adapted to accompany chicken, fish or veal.
    • Marinara: Marinara is a bold, tomato sauce used in much Italian and Mediterranean cooking. It combines fresh or canned tomatoes, onions and a variety of herbs, and is used in many pizza and pasta sauces.
    • Hollandaise: This buttery, lemony sauce is the perfect accompaniment to seafood, eggs and vegetables. It is made by combining clarified butter, egg yolks and lemon juice to form an emulsion.
    • Other sauces you can experiment with include: Barbecue Sauce, Garlic Cream Sauce, Chili Sauce, Sweet and Sour Sauce, Cheese Sauce and Chocolate Sauce.
  4. Include contrasting textures. Some of the most enjoyable dishes include a combination of different, yet complementary textures which work together to make eating a more enjoyable experience.
    • Think about topping off a baked pasta or vegetable dish, such as macaroni and cheese, or Make Eggplant Parmigiana, with some bread crumbs. The crunch of the breadcrumbs will provide a pleasant contrast to the softness of the other ingredients.
    • Similarly, adding some chopped scallions or celery to mashed potatoes can add a surprising, yet pleasant burst of texture and flavor to the dish.
    • Other ingredients which can add texture and interest to a variety of dishes include toasted nuts, such as pine nuts, cashew nuts and walnuts, crumbled cheeses such as feta, goats cheese and blue cheese, and items like water chestnuts, seeds and croutons.
  5. Experiment with herbs and spices. Herbs and spices can single-handedly give a dish a distinct flavor, characterizing it as belonging to Greek, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, or any other type of world cuisine. Herbs and spices enhance the flavor and color of food, making it more exciting to cook and eat. Some of the major herbs and spices are described below:
    • Basil: Basil is used most often in Mediterranean cooking and pairs perfectly with tomatoes. It can also be blended with pine nuts to make basil pesto.
    • Parsley: Parsley has a light, fresh flavor and is very popular in Western cooking. It works well in soups and sauces, or simply sprinkled over a dish to add a burst of color.
    • Cilantro: Cilantro is very popular is Asian and Latin cooking. Its raw leaves are used to add a fresh, bright flavor to cooked dishes, while it's roots are used for making Thai curry pastes.
    • Mint: Mint has a cooling flavor which makes it a great addition to summer salads and refreshing drinks (like Mojitos). It is also used in savory dishes originating from the Middle East and North Africa.
    • Rosemary: Rosemary is a strong flavored, woody herb which works well with roast chicken and joints of meat, stews and soups. It is best used sparingly.
    • Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a sweet, aromatic spice which is very popular in baking, especially in items such as apple pie and oatmeal cookies. It is also used in many Indian, Moroccan and Mexican dishes.
    • Paprika: Paprika lends a burst of bright red color and a spicy burst of flavor to food. It is used in many Hungarian dishes, while also being popular in Spanish and Portuguese cuisines.
    • Cumin: is a popular spice used mainly to add flavor and color to curries. It is used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian cooking.
    • Coriander: is a pleasantly sweet seed of the cilantro plant which has a lemony top note. It is commonly used in chili and curry dishes; it is used widely in many types of Latino, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes.
    • Ginger: Ginger is a very versatile spice. When used fresh, it can add a sweet, yet spicy note to stir-fries, curries and roasted meats. In dried, ground form, ginger is often added to baked goods, such as Make Ginger Snaps.[23][24]

Perfecting Specific Cooking Skills

  1. Scramble eggs. One of the most basic, yet most important cooking skills you need to learn on the road to becoming a great chef is how to scramble eggs. Basically, if you can learn how to perfectly scramble eggs, you can learn how to do anything. Knowing how to boil an egg is also a good skill.
  2. Cook rice. Rice accompanies a huge array of dishes, from a wide variety of cuisines, so it's important to know how to cook it right. Too mushy, too hard, stuck together - these are all common problems, but ones that can be easily fixed. The same goes for pasta.
  3. Roast a chicken. If you can roast a whole chicken, you are capable of making a meal to feed a whole family. If you can do it well, no-one will question your cooking skills ever again.
  4. Grill a steak. A perfectly grilled steak is one of the simplest, tastiest foods you can make. Serve it with a fresh green salad and some french fries and you're good to go.
  5. Steam vegetables. Steaming vegetables preserves their color and nutrients, making it the healthiest way to cook them. Perfectly steamed vegetables will add a burst of color and increase the nutritional values of any meal.
  6. Bake a cake. Whether it's for someone's birthday, a bake sale, or just because, learning how to bake a delicious cake is a valuable life skill, and one you won't forget. Experiment with chocolate cake, Make French Vanilla Cake, coffee cake, Make Lemon Drizzle Cake and red velvet cake.


  • Don't worry if you mess up on a recipe. We all make mistakes in our cooking now and then. You just have to use your good judgment to decide whether or not it's fixable.
  • Start slow. Don't go home the first time and try to make a turkey dinner. Start with something small, like cookies or scrambled eggs, for example. Don't expect to be fully satisfied with your first try. Cooking is as complex as it is simple, and can take time to get results you like.
  • Enjoy it. Cooking isn't for everyone, and is supposed to be fun, so if you find yourself dreading it, then it probably isn't for you.
  • Enjoy a variety of foods. Research how to make the dishes you like and compare them to the ones produced by someone else.
  • Experiment. When you learn more about flavors and the behavior of your food, try strange ingredients, spices or combinations you've never tried. You will learn about complementary tastes and have surprising results. Don't worry if it's terrible at times, you'll get the hang of it!
  • A cooking thermometer is especially useful for beginning cooks to determine if roasts, meats, and other dishes are adequately heated.
  • Look for a cooking class you could take, a person that could teach you, a cooking show, or a book you could read.
  • Hot temperatures cook the outside more, while lower temperatures cook more thoroughly. So, use really hot temperatures to sear the outside of a rare steak or get a thicker crust on bread, but lower (and longer) temperatures for a well-done steak or a soft crust.
  • If you find it hard to know when your pan is ready to cook in (hot enough) simply try putting a drop of water into the pan; if it sizzles your pan is ready.
  • Stay in the kitchen while the food is cooking. If you walk away, you may end up with a burnt mess that's stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  • When possible, taste your dishes frequently while you cook (not including raw or partially cooked fish, meat or eggs though, because of food safety issues). This lets you make sure the balance of spices is correct; it also helps you to learn how flavors develop with cooking.
  • Don't put the stove on and leave, if you can't light the stove then turn it off.
  • Always remember to wash up and clean the dishes after cooking, to prevent bacteria from accumulating on your dirty plates.


  • Be safe when heating anything. Anything hot enough to cook your food can be hot enough to hurt you. It may be necessary to use oven mitts when handing hot pans and pots.
  • Beware of food allergies and the possible inedible or poisonous properties of different things before trying to cook them.
  • Always cook meat, fish, poultry, and eggs thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to make sure the food is done.
  • Be careful not to let hot oil splatter on your skin.
  • If a pan overheats and catches fire while cooking, turn the burner off and cover the pan completely with a metal lid, damp tea towel or fire blanket (or smother it with baking soda). Never throw water on burning oil, and don't use a fire extinguisher--both can make the fire spread. Leave it for at least half an hour to cool.
  • Be very careful when chopping foods. If you do get cut, immediately put your hand in cold water and wrap with a napkin. Later on you can put some cream (if it still burns) and cover it with a band-aid.

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Sources and Citations

  18. 18.0 18.1