Cooking isn’t some intensely complicated enterprise. There is a perception that to cook high quality food, you have to be a bit of a master.
That’s all rubbish.
Cooking is, like many things really, just a series of basics that you continually build upon. For the most part these basic principles don’t have an adverse effect on each other, so you stack them up and before you know it your friends are asking you to cater their parties.
This isn’t going to be a step-by-step guide of how to cook a meal – you can get that from any cookbook. This is more tips and tricks for when you’re starting; little things that will help you understand your own cooking more so you can become better.
My theory when it comes to cooking most things is that you need to do it once or twice before it’s going to taste the way you want it to. So follow the recipe to the letter to begin with and you’ll at least end in the right ball park. I really can’t stress that point enough by the way. Follow the recipe the first time you cook something. The reason most people end up with leather like steak or a burnt pie is because they take liberties with what the recipe is telling them to do.
Only once you’ve got the hang of the standard recipe should you can start experimenting a little with your own style and flavour choices.
So now we’ll go through some of the most basic things you need to do when cooking some of the most popular meats. These are the ones your likely to cook when you begin, so hopefully you find out a few things that will set you on your way.
Steak is one those things that seems pretty intimidating when you’re first learning how to cook, and while it is very easy to ruin a steak, it doesn’t have to be.
To start you need to know exactly how you like it cooked. And believe me it will take you a few times to get it right – that’s just how it works with steak I’m afraid. Even if you absolutely nail the first one – especially if you absolutely nail the first one – chances are the second one won’t work.
For me at least, steak really is a practice makes perfect cut of meat. Once you’ve done it a few times you begin to understand your cooking equipment better, you realise just how hot your grill actually is, and where the best place to rest it is.
All of these come into play when you’re trying to grill the perfect steak, but the most important part is still that you cook it well in the first place. You do that, and you’re going to have a decent meal regardless.
The only way you can really ruin chicken is by not cooking it enough. Yes, you can overcook it and dry it out, but you can still rescue that as a meal with some good sauce or gravy.
If it’s white all the way through you’re going to be ok. It’s a simple rule but one you still have to follow if you don’t want to give yourself a mild case of food poisoning.
Because of this, chicken is a really easy meat to cook when you’re learning your trade. You don’t have to watch it like a hawk, and you can cut it up in any size or shape you like and it’s generally pretty obvious when it’s ready to go.
Grilling is the best way to start with it, as you can see when it’s ready very easily without having to slice it up to check every couple of minutes. Schnitzel and deep frying are probably a good choice only after you’ve built up a little bit confidence if you want to err on the side of caution.
So, again if you’re really not confident you can slightly over cook your chicken to begin with. Then once your confidence builds then you can work your way up to cooking chicken so it ends up juicy and tender. You’re in for a proper treat then.
With any big roast, the most basic principle for me is to cook for as long as possible as low as possible. That’s how you end up with the bone coming out clean from a whole leg of lamb, or how ribs seem to disintegrate when you lift them out of the tray.
Say with a leg of lamb, ideally what you’ll end up with is it juicy and soft around the bone, while the outermost layers are charred (yes, there is a difference between charred and burned) and have a bit of crispiness to them.
Long slow cooking is probably the simplest way you can cook a showpiece meal when you’re a beginner as well. You put your desired cut in a big tray, turn the oven on and pretty much leave it to its own devices until you’re ready to eat. There’s no mess, no fuss, and no in depth knowledge required. Plus you probably get plenty of leftovers as well, and who doesn’t want that?