Learn To Cook: Beginner’s Cooking Guide
In this article you will learn all the basics you need to start cooking, plus 10 recipes to try.
Cooking can be more than microwave meals and top ramen.
It can be hearty stews, indulgent cakes, and much more. Learning to cook can open up a whole new world to you. You can control what is going into your food. You can make food exactly the way you want. You can save money. And you can even improve your health. It’s never too late to start learning to cook.
The first thing you will need to do before you start cooking is to learn its basic skills. These will act as a foundation you can build the rest of your cooking prowess on. Once you know these skills you will realize that many of your favorite recipes are a lot easier to make than you think.
Today, we’re going to talk you through 25 essential skills to learn before you start cooking, and 10 recipes to try once you’ve learned them.
Writers say you have to read the classics before you can write well. Artists say you have to know the rules before you can break them. The same is true when it comes to cooking. All chefs, be they home cooks or Michelin starred, start in the same place – learning the basic skills of the kitchen.
It can be tempting to jump into more complex recipes without taking the time to learn these fundamental skills. We get it, learning how to cook rice is nowhere near as glamorous as cooking Rib Eye. However, spending the time to nail the following basics will pay off in the long run.
Here are 15 basics all chefs should learn at the start of their cooking journeys.
We begin our journey into cooking by looking at knife work.
This is one of the most delicate skills you need when it comes to cooking. It is also one of the ones that require the most practice. This is why we have put it first.
There are 4 main cutting styles that you should be looking to learn when you first begin cooking.
- Small, medium, large – this is the most simple skill. Learning the difference between what large and small slices are. Most of us can do this before we begin cooking.
- Mincing – this is a quick method for cutting your ingredients into very small pieces
- Julienning – this is how to cut your ingredients into slip even battens
- Chiffonade – This is a great technique for chopping leafy vegetables
You should also learn how to hold a knife like a chef.
How To Sharpen A Knife
Another essential knife skill is being able to maintain your knives.
Knives should be wiped down and not scrubbed. They should never be stored wet. And storing them in a knife block will slow down their dulling.
You should also learn how to sharpen your knives at home. Not only will a sharp knife give you cleaner cuts but it will also drastically reduce your preparation time.
How To Boil An Egg
Let’s start with one of the simplest cooking activities – boiling an egg. Perfecting a soft boiled egg is a great way to improve your timing skills.
To prepare for boiling your egg, add a pinch of salt to a pan full of water. Bring the pan to the boil.
The length of time that you need to boil your egg for will vary depending on how you want your egg. If you are looking for a soft boiled egg then you will only need to boil your egg for 4-6 minutes. If you are looking for a hard boiled egg, with a fully cooked yolk, then you will need to boil it for 10 minutes.
After the eggs have been boiled, submerge them in cold water if you want to peel them. If not you can serve them warm.
How To Melt Chocolate
Many of us are taught to melt chocolate in a microwave. This is something we all need to move on from. It is far too easy to burn the chocolate while you are melting it that way.
Instead, try using a Bain Marie method. This will leave you with glossy, melted chocolate that can be used in any type of cooking – including cakes, bread, or icing.
How To Bake A Potato
This is a workday dinner classic for a reason. Jacket Potatoes are a simple yet delicious dish. By oiling and salting the potato before putting it in the oven you will be left with a crispy jacket.
You can cook jacket potatoes in the microwave, the oven, and the slow cooker. We would recommend avoiding the microwave if you are looking for a tasty dinner.
The jacket potato is made by the toppings you give it. Why not try topping it with chili, prawn cocktail sauce, or pulled pork.
How To Roast A Chicken
Roast Chicken is the world’s favorite Sunday dinner. So it should be the first type of roast meat you should learn to make. Chicken is more forgiving and low maintenance than most other meats. So, it’s a great place to start.
Before you roast your chicken you should learn how to stuff a chicken. Filling the cavity inside the chicken with aromatic ingredients like lemon, garlic, and plenty of herbs. These flavors will seep into the meat of the chicken. They will also help you keep the meat moist.
After stuffing the chicken, it’s time to roast it. Use a meat thermometer to check that the chicken is cooked all the way through before removing it from the oven.
How To Crush Garlic
There are two main ways to crush the garlic.
You can purchase a garlic press, these were designed to speed up this exact process. Simply place the garlic cloves in the press and squeeze.
Or you can use some like a knife, pestle & mortar, or hammer to crush the garlic.
How To Prepare Avocado
Avocados went out of fashion for a few decades but they’re back with a vengeance. They have a reputation for being temperamental and for not being ripe for very long.
Avocado has grown so popular because it is filled with healthy fats, and can be used as an alternative for cream in vegan recipes.
Removing the stone from avocados can be very difficult for beginners. You should also learn how to speed up the ripening process. Avocados should not be kept in the fridge. Once they are open you should store them in an airtight container and add lemon juice to it to prevent the flesh from going brown.
How To Cook Meat At A Safe Temperature
You will want to invest in a meat thermometer when you begin cooking. This will help you to check that you are cooking your meat correctly.
They are particularly important when cooking large pieces of meat. While the meat can look very cooked on the outside, it can sometimes be raw on the inside. A thermometer will help you to avoid this.
We need to cook meat at a certain temperature to kill off any of the bacteria living on the meat and to make it easier for our stomachs to break down.
How To Cook Seafood At A Safe Temperature
A lot of people are scared of cooking seafood. Why? Because it has a reputation for being difficult to cook safely. People are worried that they will make their guests very sick if they get it wrong.
We have some good news for you. This reputation is really inaccurate. As long as the seafood is fresh and cooked at the right temperature then it will not make dinners sick.
The best way to cook seafood safely is to learn two things, (1) learn the temperatures each seafood needs to be cooked at (2) learn what they look like when it is fully cooked – for example, shrimp turn from blue to pink when fully cooked.
How To Fillet A Fish
What does filleting a fish involve? Well, taking a fish (usually freshly caught) and preparing it for cooking. This method can include bleeding the fish, beheading it, and removing its tail. Filleted fish can be cooked straight away or be frozen.
This video will talk you through everything you need to know to fillet a fish. One of the tricky things about filleting fish is that every type of fish needs to be filleted slightly differently. This video does a good job at covering the most common fish you will need to fillet.
How To Pick Bones Off Fish
Finally, it’s time to learn how to pick the bones off fish. This is not a skill for the faint-hearted, it will, however, make eating fish a lot more pleasurable.
This is a delicate process and has two main stages, (1) removing the ribs and spine of the fish, and (2) removing the small bones from other areas of the fish.
When learning how to debone fish it is important to remember that fish bones are too small and brittle to give to pets. They may shatter in their mouths or throats and cause damage.
Instead, why not keep your fish bones and make yourself some DIY fish stock (more on how to do that later).
Baking is very different from cooking. It requires a whole different set of skills and approaches. Baking is a science. Honestly, sometimes it feels like alchemy. It is very important that you follow the recipes when baking.
The following are six essential baking skills that you should develop (even if you aren’t interested in baking).
How To Line A Baking Tin
We won’t spend too long on this section. We think you’ll pick it up quickly.
We line our baking tins to make it easier to remove the cakes at the end. If we don’t line our tins then the cake will fuse with the tin and will most likely break apart when you try to remove it.
So, how do you line a baking tin?
Take a small amount of lard or butter on your fingertips. Coat the entire inside of the baking tin with the lard. After you have finished this, take a sheet of baking paper and push it into the tin. The lard will help you secure the paper to the sides of the tin.
You shouldn’t worry about the paper hanging over, excess paper will make the cake easier to remove.
How To Knead A Dough
Kneading dough is one of the oldest skills in the cookbook. It has been done for thousands of years around the world. Despite being so old, kneading dough is still as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago.
Gluten is the protein that holds our baked goods together. Gluten is made up of two smaller proteins – gliadin and glutenin. Without needing the two proteins won’t combine to form the gluten structures.
Here is a guide to kneading the dough by hand.
How To Bake Cakes
As we have already mentioned (and will probably mention again) baking is more like a science experiment than cooking. We could do a whole separate guide on how to bake cakes.
What we will do today is leave you with some tips that will improve your baking. For example, always follow the recipe and read it multiple times before you start baking.
Try to open the oven as infrequently as possible while the cake is baking. Opening the oven lets the heat out. If the temperature in the oven drops too low then the cake will begin to collapse.
Learn how to rub butter. It will leave you with smoother, tastier cakes.
Why It’s Important To Follow Baking Recipes’ Instructions
Baking is a science. It relies on a carefully measured mixture of ingredients to correctly produce the desired result.
Experienced bakers are able to play around with the baking process and formulas. But only because they understand the rules of baking. As a beginner, you will need to follow the instructions.
When you start baking it’s hard to understand why fruit sinks to the bottom if it’s too big, or why Filo pastry leaks if it’s not turned correctly. You won’t know how much baking soda you need per 100g of flour you use.
The good news is that the recipe writer has already done all the hard work for you. All you need to do is follow their instructions.
If you’re looking for evidence for why it is important not to mess with the recipes until you’re an experienced baker then watch any episode of The Great British Bake Off on Netflix.
How To Mix Batter
Finally, let’s look at how to mix the batter. Now, this sounds simple, but any fan of baking competitions will tell you otherwise.
The batter is mixed to help strengthen the bonds of the gluten structures in the flour. This is what stops the baked good from crumbling apart. Overmixing can actually damage these structures, leaving you a dry crumbly mess after hours of baking.
Another victim of overmixing is the air in the mix. Unless you’re making a fruit loaf, then you will want to keep as much air in your mix as possible. Beating for too long, or too hard will knock the air out of it. This will prevent the batter from rising when it’s in the oven.
How To Get Started Cooking A Recipe
Before we get cooking we need to pick our first recipe. Here is a quick guide to picking the perfect recipe and how to prepare for cooking a meal.
How to Read (and Pick) a Recipe
As a beginner, the best thing you can do is completely understand a recipe before you start cooking with it. Most recipes take a more storytelling tone and aren’t always as clear as they need to be.
Read the recipe multiple times before cooking. Why?
Well, doing this will make sure that you purchase all the correct ingredients. It will make sure that you are able to plan out your timing, collect the right equipment, and prepare the ingredients correctly before you begin cooking.
When looking for the right recipe the options will appear endless at first. The internet has a glut of recipes. You’ll very quickly discover that there are some more reliable recipe sources. Both the New York Times and the BBC’s Good Food as great places for beginners.
If you would like to cook from a book then check out How To Cook by Dehlia Smith. This has been a bestseller since it was first published and has taught many thousands of people to cook.
When To Cook
If we were partial to a dad joke then our answer to this question would be ‘when you’re hungry’. However, we’re here to be helpful. Understanding when to cook and how long you have to cook will help you feel calmer while cooking.
The recipe will tell you who long it will take to prepare and cook. Add these times together and as a beginner, you should add an extra third to that to give yourself a buffer. Then take that time away from when you are planning to eat.
For example, if you want to eat at 6 pm and your recipe takes half an hour, and you’ve added the buffer (so in total, 40 minutes) you will need to start cooking at 5:20 pm.
Planning Your Time Properly
You definitely know someone who has a color-coded timetable when they cook Thanksgiving Dinner. If you don’t cook that may seem a little ridiculous, however, the more time you spend cooking the more sense that will make.
Before you even start cooking you need to work out what order you are making the parts of dinner in, how long each element will take, and when you need to start cooking them. Yes, this sounds like a lot of work, but it’s a lot less working than doing it on the fly while you’re cooking.
Assemble Your Tools
The easiest way to take the stress out of cooking is to be prepared. This means that you should have everything you need to make the recipe within arm’s reach while you are cooking. This will help you to avoid running around like a headless chicken looking for your whisk while the pot of the stove boils over.
The easiest way to assemble your tools is to make a list of what you will need as you read the recipe. And then go round your kitchen collecting everything you will need.
Don’t forget to collect your whetstone for the next point.
Sharpen The Knives
If you cast your mind back to the very beginning of this article, the second skill we learned was how to sharpen a knife. We covered why it is so important to regularly sharpen your knives. If you need a recap, head back up to that section.
The final step before we start preparing our ingredients is to sharpen the knives we are planning to use for this recipe.
Prepare The Ingredients
If you’re ever wondering how chefs in restaurants are able to cook so quickly under pressure, we have a secret to share with you. Chefs prepare all their ingredients before they start cooking.
Some people will be looking at this and thinking that it makes complete sense. While others will be thinking that it sounds like a waste of time, but trust us. Once you start preparing your ingredients in advance, you’ll never go back.
This includes measuring out your liquid ingredients and preparing any stock that you will need before beginning to cook.
Easy Dishes To Start With
Now that you have learned the basic skills of cooking, and you understand how to choose and prepare a recipe – it’s time to start cooking.
Now is the point where all that time you’ve invested in the basics will start to pay off.
Below are 10 different recipes that every good home cook should know how to make.
Let’s start with a staple of many meals – roast vegetables. Learning how to make roast vegetables will be useful when making a roast chicken meal (see below) or if you are interested in Mediterranean food.
Every vegetable is different, so one of the key skills you will need to learn is how long each vegetable needs to be roasted.
For this meal, you will need a roasting tray, oil, and a knife. Don’t forget to preheat your oven before you start preparing your vegetables.
Stir-frys have become the king of weeknight dinners for a reason. They’re easy to prepare and even easier to cook. They’re also a great way to get a whole heap of vegetables in your diet without it tasting like you’re eating something super healthy.
Every good stir-fry is made up of 3-4 elements: (1) the sliced vegetables (2) the protein (3) the sauce (4) optional noodles.
The most complicated part of making stir-fry is cooking the meat (or meat substitute), as it will take a lot longer to cook than the rest of the stir-fry.
Stir-frys are incredibly easy to customize, so don’t feel pressured to cook with ingredients you don’t enjoy.
Scrambled eggs are a breakfast staple. They are also one of the easiest and quickest ways to prepare eggs.
We’re going to politely encourage you to learn how to prepare scrambled eggs on the stovetop, rather than in the microwave.
You will need to experiment with how you like your scrambled eggs – just eggs, with milk, and/or with butter? Once you have mastered the basics of making scrambled eggs, it’s time to season. We recommend starting by making scrambled eggs with red pesto and parmesan.
Most people can cook rice. However, most people can’t cook it well. It’s very rare to find someone who can cook delicious, light, and fluffy rice at home. But, don’t worry it is possible to learn how to do this.
Rice is eaten all over the world, and because of this, there are many different theories on how to make the perfect bowl of rice. In many parts of Asia rice is steamed. In South America, they fry the rice slightly before boiling it.
With so many options out there, you should take the time to experiment with rice. And find the easiest way for you to cook rice.
Cooking Beans From Scratch
There are two major benefits of learning to cook beans from scratch, (1) you can enjoy incredibly healthy beans without the preservatives, and (2) it is a really easy way to save money.
Beans are very easy to prepare, however, the process does involve some advance planning. Cooking beans involves two stages, soaking the beans and cooking the beans.
When soaking the beans you should use four cups of cold water per cup of beans. The time you will need to soak then will vary.
Beans make great additions to many meals, including burritos and chili.
Roast Chicken Dinner
Many people are intimidated by the idea of cooking a roast chicken dinner. We have a secret for you… you already know who to cook every individual item on the plate – the only tricky part is getting your timing right. Once you have learned all the basics of cooking you will be perfectly capable of cooking this dish.
Roast chicken, roast potatoes, Brussel sprouts, and gravy are all simple dishes that you will quickly master.
Soups, Stocks, and Stews
Contained within the three S’s (soups, stocks, and stews) are some of the most delicious flavors cooking has to offer.
Every home chef should know who to make their own stock – both meat based and vegetarian, even if they don’t do it every time they cook. Making stock is a great way to use leftover scraps and bones, as well as enhancing the flavor of your dishes. All the best restaurants make their own stock.
Soups and Stews are some of the oldest forms of cooked meals and have been enjoyed all over the world. There is nothing better than a hearty stew on a rainy day or a spicy soup when you’re full of a cold.
This Italian classic has been the friend of new cooks for decades. Once you have learned to cook pasta a new world will be opened up to you. There is a pasta dish to suit every mood and every pallet. You can even branch out and try new types of pasta – some exciting options are tri-color and squid ink pasta.
Creating pasta sauces will give you a great opportunity to show off the skills you learned earlier in this article.
Every home cook should know how to make a wide range of pasta dishes. If you’re looking for somewhere to start we would recommend Bolognese, Carbonara, and some kind of pasta bake.
Brownies are the perfect option for amateur bakers. They are a simple form of cake that can be cooked using as little as two ingredients (and sometimes they don’t even need to be baked!).
Making brownies is such a simple process that it’s become the cake of choice for free-from bakers – as they can be made without dairy, nuts, and even gluten.
Brownies come in many forms. They can be no bowl, no hassle treat to make with the little ones, or a show stopping end of dinner party indulgence. No baker will be taken seriously if they don’t know how to make mouth watering brownies.
When thinking about baking, most people’s minds go to Cookies. And why wouldn’t they?! Cookies come in a huge variety of styles and a nearly infinite range of flavors.
They’re an important part of our society, from Girl Scout Cookies, sugar cookies at Christmas, America is even home to the world’s largest cookie.
Cookies are another weapon in the chef or baker’s arsenal. So whether you want to cook classic cookies, indulgent cookies, or giant cookies – it’s time to settle on a signature bake.
Learning to cook can be an intimidating task. But, like learning any new skill identifying and mastering the basics is the key to success. By following the 25 above tips you will be ready to take on any recipe.
Once you have mastered the basics there are a small number of recipes you can use to hone your skills. Pasta, scrambled eggs, and brownies are simple recipes that will test everything you’ve learned so far.
The only way to get better at cooking is to practice. So, what are you waiting for it’s time to start making dinner!