the basics of cooking

Back in graduate school, I used to consider myself a fairly capable cook. I knew how to go to the store, how to buy ingredients, and every once in a while, I’d cook them well enough that they tasted good without even dumping sriracha all over the meal.

Then in 2016, everything changed.

I had 3 weeks at home where I was between jobs and stuck with nothing to do throughout the day besides write thank you cards for my wedding.

I figured out a new way to pass the time — binge watch shows on the Food Network. Pretty soon I realized I knew nothing about cooking.

It took me a while to appreciate that much of my lack of ability came from misunderstanding the basics. So here they are — the most important basics I learned to be the chef that I am today.

Get a good cooking knife and cutting board.

Cutting Board and Knife

I can’t stress this enough. Neither can literally anyone on the internet who has a similar blog. Invest in a proper cooking knife and cut on a large, flat cooking board. Dull knifes are not only dangerous, they make cutting ingredients into uniform sizes nearly impossible. Warped cutting boards aren’t helping you much either.

Once you do acquire the proper equipment, be sure to hold your knife properly. Once you see it, it’s simple:

How to hold a knife
Source: a similarly sarcastic blog found here:

Learn to cut an onion.

Now that you’re an expert knife holder, it’s time to learn to chop something like a professional. Watch the video below and follow closely. If you can master this, you’ll suddenly change how you cut literally everything else.

Salt and lemon juice are your friends.

There are only two things that keep me up at night these days:

  1. Uncertainty in the price that my favorite proof-of-stake cryptocurrency NEO is trading at.
  2. Fear that my next meal will be under-seasoned.

Under-seasoned food is the worst. But sometimes, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong in a dish.

This is where salt and acid are your friends. Both of these bring out the other flavors in your dish so you don’t have to figure out what’s wrong with it.

Too bland? Add salt.

Salty, but lacking depth of flavor? Add acid. Lemon juice or vinegar are classics.

Too salty? Temper it with some oil or cream, but avoid getting to this point as it’s hard to backtrack.

Presentation matters.

We all have seen beautiful looking food:

Good looking food.

It’s often easy to spot good looking food but harder to execute in practice. Here’s a few tips on upping that presentation game:

  1. Start with a blank canvas.
    Buy a set of completely white plates. The reason your dinners have been clashing with your beige plates with brown trimmings is because we all like eating off of what appears to be a clean surface. Everything you place on a blank, white plate will pop much better.
  2. Lay sauces down first.
    If you watch enough cooking shows, you’ll see this happen. It not only makes the dish look good, it also gets sauce to parts of your dish that lack it when you’re simply placing it on top.
  3. Get some color contrast.
    Just like syntax highlighting, splashes of color help your eyes narrow in on the important parts of a dish. Fresh herbs, a sprinkle of pepper, a dash of shredded cheeses — these are all great ways to add contrasting components on top of any dish.

Baby steps, and you’ll be a mediocre Cooks vs Cons hopeful like me pretty soon.

And yes, I know. This post is longer than 600 words.

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