There are no shortage of cooking guides on the television these days. ‘How to cook like Heston’, ‘Gordon Ramsay’s, ultimate cooking guide’ etc… But do they actually teach you anything? Well; sadly no. That is unless you buy the book, watch the show like a lecture and fill in your knowledge by reading around the subject matter as well as actually cooking each dish. Cooking is by its nature a practical skill that you can only really get to grips with when you actually try out a recipe and then accurately reproduce your efforts.
That being the case, here’s how I’d start to learn to cook at home.
1) Choose something you eat regualy at a restaurant for instance your favourite curry or pasta dish. This allows you to have a frame of reference for how it should look, taste, smell etc.
2) Look up the most authentic recipe you can find online or in a book (I’d generally avoid TV chef recipes, they tend to be adapted or given a twist to make it their own). Your purpose here is to try and replicate the original version as accuratley as possible. Only when you know how it should be that you can adapt it successfully to your own tastes.
3) Read the recipe well in advance and pay attention to any practical information and detail given to way it should look or taste.
4) Prepare all your ingredients before you start to cook (what chefs call Mise en place). This allows you to cook with control and confidence. Take your time at this stage and make sure each element is as good as you can make it – great cooking is an assembly and the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.
5) When you begin to cook, taste EVERYTHING! I can’t stress this enough… far too many people add all the ingredients to a pan and then taste it. This is never acceptable practice, you need to know what happens to the onion when you fry it and how it tastes after 2 minutes in the pan as compared to 5 minutes and exactly how hot that chilli is. Think of it like paint, if you add blue to yellow you get green, and if you add more blue the green becomes more intense. Well in cooking its the same, an onion tastes different raw than when you fry it. When frying the onion gets sweeter and sweeter as the natural sugars caramelise but then eventually they burn and it tastes bitter. You need not know the science behind these reactions (for now) but you should at least know its are happening.
Well thats it. If you follow these steps you will have cooked your favourite meal, seen how the flavours change and compliment each other as well as gaining a reference point for the atypical version of your chosen meal.
Now all you have to do is pick another one of your fav’s and try that… following this method every time will soon have you understanding all the basics to excellent home cooking.
As an addendum to this I thought it appropriate to list my favourite 3 cookbooks for the aspiring home cook.
1) The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria
2) The Silver Spoon
3) Heston Blumenthal at Home