If a home cook wanted to make one cooking resolution for the New Year, what would you recommend? We understand that this is a broad question, but is there one thing that most people should be doing but aren’t?
Wow, that’s a very broad question. So much depends on the skills and situation of the individual cook. Some things that come to mind include making sure your kitchen is easy and ready to work in at all times, being organized, seeking inspiration on an on-going basis (even the best cooks sometimes need help here), and cleaning up as you go to cut down on the inevitable drudgery which follows preparing and serving a meal.
With no offense intended to those who are already proficient, though, I’d say learn and practice good knife skills. I never cease to be amazed how even good cooks – i.e., those who can turn out a tasty meal from scratch – could improve how they handle knives and cutting tasks.
I see people all the time who are struggling with crappy knives, good knives which aren’t cared for properly, inadequate cutting boards, and cutting tasks in general. If your knives aren’t razor sharp; if your cutting board is too small, warped, or gouged; if you can’t efficiently peel and chop, dice, mince, and julienne fruits and vegetables, then you’re wasting time and making life in the kitchen more difficult and unpleasant than it needs to be.
In conjunction with a decent cutting board, a well-equipped kitchen only needs three knives. They are a paring knife, a chopping knife, and a serrated knife. In a Chinese kitchen, the large kitchen cleaver can handle all these chores, but as that’s not how I’m trained, I’ll address those first three. Learn which tasks each one is for. Sounds silly, I know, but people try to chop with paring knives all the time, for example. My mom, who cooked for over half a century, did that – drove me crazy.
Learn cutting and slicing techniques. Take a class, ask a friend who has these skills, or go on-line for a course (just do a search for “knife skills video tutorial;” there are lots of choices, many of them free.) Learn the different knife holds, how to grip different foods properly, and how to angle and wield each knife.
Starting with the most basic task – chopping an onion – practice, practice, practice. If you saw “Julie & Julia,” you may remember the scene where Meryl Streep as Julia Child is chopping her way through a literal mountain of onions! That really is what it takes, repetition. Master the technique for each task, and then keep doing it until it’s second nature.