If you are set to begin a 12-week spell at cooking school, then you can almost certainly expect to learn a great deal of information about all things related to cooking. From vegetable prep to trimming meats, from gutting fish to making pastry art, you’ll gain an incredible number of kitchen skills from your cooking tutor.
However, one very important thing that you will learn to do during an extensive course is how to read recipes. It may sound simple, but the art of dissecting recipes is actually a very skilful activity and requires a great understanding of gathering ingredients and taking instruction.
Knives don’t come with instructions, but if you have ever seen a professional chef using them to perfection during a demonstration, it will make you think that perhaps they should come with instructions on how to cut things like they do! Your cooking tutor will guide you through the technique.
Learning how to use knives of all sizes, from a paring knife to a ridged bread knife, is something that you can expect your tutor to teach you during any basic cooking class focused on the fundamental aspects of novice cooking techniques. In addition, your instructor might show you how to safely sharpen your equipment.
Along with learning about cooking methods, recipes and food types, you will also learn how to treat food during the preparation process. Food hygiene is incredibly important in the kitchen, and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), a government organisation, ensures the safety of food preparation zones in all commercial kitchens by setting out strict hygiene rules.
Some of the basics that you will cover are using different chopping boards and knives for cooking poultry, fish, red meats, other meats and of course vegetables. In fact, in some kitchens, you will find colour-coded cutting boards according to the type of food you are working with.
With the FSA’s fabulous visual ratings decorating the windows of many cafes and restaurants, you can check how clean an establishment’s kitchen is by seeing what it has been rated by experts on a scale of 1 to 5.
The Food Standards Agency issues ratings to let customers know how hygienic kitchens are. Photo credit: jeffdjevdet on VisualHunt
Despite the fact that you are paying for lessons, you simply cannot expect to learn everything at once.
With this in mind, don’t prepare yourself to come out of a week-long course a fully-qualified, state of the art chef who can walk into any restaurant kitchen. Any successful chef will tell you that expertise develops over a very long period of tough experience under the supervision of a well-trained chef.
You have to work from scratch to become a good cook so make sure that you set realistic expectations of the outcomes your cooking classes.
While you may not have the time or funds to invest in a full-blown culinary school term, you can still expect to learn many of the above skills in shorter courses, but in a slightly less intensive method. It may not be clear while you are learning, but you will still take away a great deal of knowledge on kitchen processes, how best to use tools in the kitchen and, more importantly, confidence to go about your cooking without barriers.
Find out more about the cost of cooking lessons.
How To Chop An Onion
Onions are the fundamental ingredient in so many dishes: from fine Italian cuisine to a roast dinner gravy, almost every dish could easily incorporate an onion, or its smaller sibling, the shallot, to pack it full of flavour. But what is the correct way to cut an onion?
When following a recipe from your cookbook, it is important to note whether your onion should be diced or sliced, as this will affect how much flavour is released during the cooking process and also the texture of the dish. And now for the cutting… have you ever seen chefs cutting onions at super-fast speed?
When you slow it down, you will notice that, when dicing, the chef cuts the ends off of the onion, halves it and then cuts into each half with parallel slices, yet leaving about 5mm of the opposite edge in tact. Then, they rotate the half onion 90 degrees and cut in parallel slices the opposite way to achieve small pieces, without the onion falling apart in their hands.
There is a technique to chopping an onion like a professional. Photo credit: austinevan on Visualhunt.com
If you try this pro method while you home cook, be sure to use a cutting board and a suitable knife. If you are a bit of a calamity in the kitchen, then do ensure you wear closed toe shoes too!
Everyone has their own method, but your instructor might also advise you on how to prevent your eyes from stinging when you cut into the onion. Whether it is cutting it whilst it is immersed in water or sucking on a teaspoon to keep your eyes tear-free, they will have a suggestion or two to try!
How To Boil Or Poach An Egg
Boiling an egg – sounds simple, right? But there is an actual science to getting the consistency just right.
If you want a nice runny yolk, this can be destroyed in the matter of seconds, turning the overcooked egg to a sticky mess. Obviously, your tutor will explain that the length of time you boil the egg for will directly impact how runny or hard your egg becomes. One of the main things to remember is that you should start with your eggs at room temperature.
For soft-boiled eggs, you will need to lower the egg into a pan of boiling water and leave for three to five minutes. For hard-boiled eggs, place the egg in a pan of cold water and bring it up to boil with the egg immersed, cooking for a further seven to ten minutes after it has reached boiling point.
A great tip is to put your egg in cold water when you remove it from the heat so it doesn’t continue to cook.
How To Make An Omelette
Sticking with eggs, a great addition to your cooking repertoire is knowing how to make a basic omelette.
Omelettes are great for a light lunch or dinner option, and are good for using up leftovers like peppers, ham, mushroom and more – you can create a real cocktail of flavours with just a few simple ingredients!
An alpine speciality is omelette made with potatoes and Reblechon cheese, so if you are a ski fanatic, you might have tasted some seriously delicious omelettes whilst on the slopes.
An omelette is a quick and easy way to provide a light lunch or dinner and use up leftovers. Photo on Visual hunt
If you have watched chefs compete on Saturday Kitchen to make an omelette in record time, then please don’t follow their lead! This is just a game designed to allow professionals a bit of friendly competition and is purely for entertainment value.
The correct way to make an omelette is to beat your eggs (two eggs are sufficient for an omelette for one), and to pour the into a hot pan, greased with a knob of butter. Scatter over your fillings, like your cheese and your chosen vegetables, and then fold it over if you so wish.
How To Make Gravy
If you are used to stirring some Ahh Bisto granules in with boiling water to create a gravy, then you and your palate are in luck! Elementary cooking courses will often cover how to create tasty gravies and sauces to accompany your food. Real, homemade gravy tastes so much better than the powdered stuff.
Your class leader will probably have their own secret trick to making a silky smooth gravy, but for a textured gravy you should aim to cook your meat, vegetables and an onion (for taste) all in one pan and add the liquid so it gets all of the combined flavours. You’ll then have to sieve it into a smaller saucepan.
If you can’t or don’t want to put everything in the one pan, then you can reserve the cooking juices and water and then add to the separate saucepan.
How To Cook The Perfect Steak
Browning your meat to seal in the flavour is a technique that a professional will recommend. When it comes to making the perfect steak, though, you don’t want to risk over-cooking it, even for a few seconds.
For a really tasty steak, make sure that you pick a nice cut of meat. Fillet steak is often the least chewy, and is perfect for a date night menu paired with some wine. Tenderloin is also a good choice, meanwhile if you are buying beef for a stew or casserole, you can opt for a cheaper cut like braising beef.
The best and easiest way to cook a steak is to pan fry it. Make sure you take your meat out of the fridge and let it come down to room temperature before placing it in a pan. Then, professionals usually add pepper and salt before placing it in a sizzling pan of oil or butter (apparently, you should never salt your beef too early as the salt gets into the flesh and dries it out).
For a medium-rare steak, cook each side for two-three minutes and then leave it to rest for several minutes before serving. If you serve up your meat on the plate before it has had a chance to rest, you will wind up with an unappetising pool of blood on your dish.