Learning how to cook is an important skill that anyone can learn. The most difficult part of learning how is getting started. There are many different techniques and recipes to learn, but fret not! Here’s a few basic skills and tips that’ll help you start your cooking journey.

Taste As You Go

Once you have a recipe picked out and your cooking station is Mise en Place, you’re ready to get started. One common error that many beginner cooks make is to not taste their food as they go.

When you taste the food throughout the cooking process you can make adjustments as you go. — Anne Burrell, celebrity chef

This may seem like a great way to fill up before dinner is ready, but how else are you going to know that your soup needs more salt? You can always add more salt and spices as you cook, and taste testing tells you when to do so. Pasta is another ingredient that you should taste as you cook. In this case, you’re tasting for texture. Is the pasta done to your liking? The best way to know is to try!

Tasting as you go doesn’t apply to meat. There are a few reasons you don’t want to taste meat until it’s cooked, but the primary reason is the risk of foodborne illnesses. You may try and use a smaller piece of meat that you season and cook along with the larger pieces. This will give you a sense of how the main course will taste.

Ultimately, before you declare a meal ready to serve, you should have an idea of how it tastes and if the reality matches your design.

Searing a Perfect Steak

Now that you’re ready to start cooking, let’s go over some basic cooking techniques. When it comes to making the perfect steak, nothing tops a good sear, or cooking at an intense heat. This technique caramelizes the fats and sugars in the meat and creates a beautiful crust.

To prep for searing meat, remove the meat from the refrigerator 15 to 20 minutes before cooking. Cooking meat straight from the fridge is an easily avoided, but common mistake. If the meat is still cold from the refrigerator, it can lead to the steak being cooked on the outside, but raw in the center. Letting the meat warm before cooking ensures that you get a nice, even heat through the meat.

Letting the meat warm before cooking ensures that you get a nice, even heat through the meat.

When searing something, there are four steps to keep in mind. First, you’ll need to cover your pan in a thin coat of oil, preferably vegetable oil (which has a higher heat point). This heats the meat evenly across the entire surface. Next, you’ll need to heat the pan to a very high heat. Watch the oil closely, as it’ll be up-to-temperature when it begins to simmer. Once it’s in the pan, let it sit. Most ingredients take a few minutes before they are ready to turn. Don’t interrupt the cooking process!

Once your sear is complete, take the meat off the heat and let it rest. Resist the temptation to cut into the meat right away. Cutting into meat too soon will cause it to be dry and have less flavor. Why? As you cooked the meat, the heat forced toward the center of the steak (away from the heat). This causes the center of the steak to become oversaturated with juices, so when you cut into the steak, the flavor literally drains out. Instead, let the steak rest, as this allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, keeping it tasty and moist.

Pasta, For Beginners

Another skill no cook should do without is being able to cook pasta. There are many different types of pasta with different needs, but the general cooking technique is the same. In a large pot, boil 4 quarts of water for every pound of pasta. Using enough water in the pot is an important step to keeping the pasta from sticking together. Add salt to your boiling water, too. You’d be surprised how much flavor a little salt can inject into your pasta.

You’d be surprised how much flavor a little salt can inject into your pasta.

Want an even easier trick to cook pasta to a perfect al dente? Read the box! Seriously, most pasta boxes will include instructions and cook times for the specific pasta.

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These are only a few simple tips to help you get started on your culinary journey. To continue learning more, check out any of our recipe articles in the Diet section. Our series Getting Creative with Comfort Food takes your favorite, though often unhealthy, meals and makes some healthy tweaks. Another series, Superfood Snack Hacks, introduces ways to work healthy superfoods into your diet.

If there’s ever a cooking technique or kitchen issue that you want to learn more about, you can also always make an article suggestion on our Facebook or Twitter, or contact us at living@medicareful.com. Happy cooking!

Further Reading

Lifehacker — Learn to Make Any Dish You Cook Better with the Science of Taste
Medicareful Living — Cooking for Beginners: Meal Prep and Safety
Medicareful Living — The Benefits of Cooking for Yourself
WebMD — Cooking 101: Kitchen Basics