Basic Kitchen Skills

Once you have the right pans and the best ingredients, there are a few basic skills
that you should practice in order to ensure success in the kitchen. Foundational
elements like proper measuring, knife work, and seasoning know-how will help
you in every single recipe you tackle.

Read the Recipe Carefully
Almost everyone has embarked upon preparing a recipe only to realize midway through that the dish needed hours of chilling before it can be finished and served. By reading the recipe completely through before you start to cook, you will avoid any surprises along the way.

Follow Directions (at Least the First Time)
Cooking is a science, but it is also an art. Our advice is simple: Make the recipe as directed the first time. Once you understand the recipe, you can improvise and make it your own.

Be Prepared
Set out and organize all of the equipment you will need for a recipe and prep all of the ingredients for it before you start to cook. In culinary school, this is referred to as creating a mise en place.

Start with Good Ingredients
Don’t expect to turn old eggs into a nicely risen soufflé. Likewise, low-quality meat will yield low-quality results. Freshness matters. When it comes to pantry items, try to use our recommended products if possible. The right can of tomatoes can make or break your sauce.

Prepare Ingredients as Directed
Be sure to prepare food as instructed in the ingredient list. Food that is uniformly and properly cut will not only cook at the same rate but will also be more visually appealing.

Keep Substitutions to a Minimum
In general, it is best if you use the ingredients called for in the recipe; this is especially true in baking, where even the slightest change can spell disaster. This book includes a list of emergency substitutions we’ve found to work in a pinch.

Use Appropriately Sized Equipment
Make sure to use the cookware and bakeware sizes noted in the recipe. If you try to cook four chicken cutlets in a 10-inch skillet, rather than in the 12-inch skillet called for in the recipe, the chicken will steam in the overcrowded pan rather than giving you the good sear you’re looking for.

Preheat Your Oven
Most ovens need at least 15 minutes to preheat fully. If you don’t preheat your oven sufficiently, your food will spend more time in the oven and will suffer the consequences. Also, position the oven racks as directed.

Monitor the Dish as It Cooks
The cooking times in our recipes are meant as guidelines only. Because ingredients and equipment inevitably vary, it is important to follow the visual cues provided in the recipe. It is good practice to start checking for doneness 5 to 10 minutes before the designated time.

Taste the Dish Before Serving
Most recipes end by instructing the cook to adjust the seasonings. You must taste the food in order to do this successfully. We generally season food lightly throughout the cooking process and then add more salt as needed. Foods that will be served chilled should be tasted again before serving, as cold mutes the effects of seasoning.

Learn from Your Mistakes
Even our test cooks sometimes turn out less-than-perfect food. A good cook is able to analyze failure, pinpoint the cause, and then avoid that pitfall the next time. Repetition is the key to any learning process, and cooking is no different. Make a dish at least once or twice a month until you master it. Practice really does make perfect.