Mary-Linh Tran

Editorial Assistant at Kitchen Stories

As the only species on Earth to harness fire and transform raw ingredients into something flavorful and fragrant, cooking is an essential aspect of being human, though it doesn’t come naturally or without practice. Each time we head into the kitchen, we’re bound to learn something new. Even professional chefs are occasionally met with unexpected bumps in the road—like a collapsed soufflé or a split mayonnaise—that can only be resolved if you have a basic understanding of how food responds to heat, acidity, sugar, and other elements.

As a home cook, having these 10 techniques under my belt has not only improved my cooking but also pushed me to try new methods I would not have had the confidence to attempt. From learning how to properly blanch vegetables to boiling an egg to perfection, these fundamental kitchen methods will help you to create dishes with more ease, as well as provide inspiration and solutions for when your recipes need a bit of pepping up. Once mastered, the world of cooking will broaden and the possibilities will feel cosmic. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get to cookin’!

1. Cutting onions

Perhaps the most common step across all cookbooks is to dice or slice onions. Learning how to cut these bulbous plants more uniformly will not only result in a prettier plate, but also one that contains more evenly distributed flavors.

How to cut an onion

  • 01:10 min.

Did you know how you cut an onion also influences how much flavor you’ll get out of it? Whether you cut, slice, chop, or dice, onions are key ingredients in myriad dishes, and knowing what outcome each method produces will inevitably refine your dish. For sharp, astringent onions with a kick, slice it parallel to the equator (against the grain), and for something sweet and tender, slice the onion pole to pole (with the grain).

2. How to blanch

As a vegetarian, I stayed away from certain vegetables for an embarrassingly long time (yes, I’m talking about broccoli). It didn’t matter if I roasted, steamed, or fried them, they always came out dull and soggy. After countless trials and errors I finally stumbled on the practice of blanching.

How to blanch

  • 01:30 min.

Blanching consists of plunging vegetables into boiling water for a brief moment in order to partially cook them. While all vegetables can technically be blanched, this process is especially critical for hardier ones, like broccoli, kale, and carrots. The process of blanching removes any excess water the veg contains and helps it to retain its flavor, nutrients, and color (ever wondered why restaurant spinach is so much brighter than the goop you end up with at home?) It’s such a simple step that really lets you relish vegetables and their versatility, so definitely do not skip this when cooking with veg!

3. Homemade sauces

Okay, having a few sauces up your sleeve may be more of a skill than a technique, but I’m including this anyways, because a well-crafted sauce will always improve whatever it is you’re whipping up in the kitchen. Think about it: are there any culinary traditions without a sauce to go with it? From the French “mother sauces” (hollandaise and béchamel , to name a few) to the earthy and zesty chimichurri drizzled on meat and fish all over South America, and the bright, acidic nước chấm (fish sauce) poured over Vietnamese dishes, sauces can add, soften, or enhance the flavors of a dish.

Simple homemade pesto

  • 02:53 min.

How to make an all-rounder roux

  • 02:02 min.

Homemade Béchamel

  • 02:35 min.

Homemade tomato sauce

  • 01:40 min.

Homemade Hollandaise

  • 02:21 min.

Chimichurri sauce

  • 02:15 min.

4. Kneading

Although arduous in practice, kneading is a critical step in baking bread; it’s what gives our bread structure and form, and without it, the world of loaves would be much, much smaller, and much, much, well, staler. The process of kneading allows us to trap the gasses released by yeast so that the product is something light, airy, and most importantly, fluffy. You’ll know when a dough has been kneaded enough when the dough is smooth and pushes back when you poke it with your finger. You can find more tips for baking bread here.

How to knead dough

  • 01:04 min.

5. How to cook the perfect egg

There are a million ways to cook eggs, but in my opinion, every dish can benefit from a boiled egg. Whether it’s a soft egg with a runny yolk that’ll ooze all over your noodle soup or something supple that’ll add texture to your salad bowl, there are endless ways to incorporate boiled eggs into your cooking. Knowing how to boil them to perfection will reveal the boiled egg’s versatility. A tip: Consider piercing tiny holes with a needle on the bottom (wider end) of the egg to avoid cracking under water.

How to cook the perfect egg

  • 01:49 min.

6. Basic vinaigrette

A vinaigrette can be as easy as olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon, and once you’ve learned the basic roles of each ingredient, then you can start customizing your vinaigrettes to your taste buds' desires. Remember: what makes a vinaigrette a vinaigrette is the touch of acidity, which can’t bind with oil without the help of an emulsifier. Using something like mustard or miso will help the oil and acid to merge into a thick sauce, excellent for drowning your meat, fish, vegetables, or salad greens in—you’ll never want to spend money on store-bought vinaigrette dressings again!

Basic vinaigrette

  • 01:38 min.

7. Segmenting citrus

If nothing annoys you more than picking pith from under your nails after peeling an orange, look no further than segmenting to alleviate you of your sticky fingers. Also known as supreming, segmenting is a French technique that’ll make peeling and slicing citrus fruits a breeze. Make sure to use a sharp knife rather than a serrated one. It’s a bit tricky at first, but after some practice, you’ll have glossy, sparkling slices to toss into everything, from creamy yogurt parfaits to salad bowls.

How to segment an orange

  • 01:0 min.

8. How to make brown butter

If you haven’t tried brown butter, watch the video below, then heat some butter on the stove top right now. I mean it. Brown butter, in all its rich and nutty glory, is the magical flavoring agent that’ll transform your dish into something extraordinary. While ordinary butter often fades into the background of dishes, brown butter never goes unnoticed.

How to make brown butter

  • 01:07 min.

Heating butter allows the water to evaporate, leaving behind all the indulgent parts of butter (milk and fat), which then caramelizes into a toasted brown sauce with nutty notes. It’s no wonder the French call it beurre noisette (hazelnut butter). The important thing to note here is knowing when your butter has browned and not accidentally burning it. Once you develop an eye for the perfect shade of brown, normal butter will pale in comparison, and you’ll want to spoon brown butter over everything: pasta, meat, fish, veggies, and even grains.

9. Searing

If blanching helps us to draw the most flavors out of vegetables, then searing (cooking the surface of meat at high temperatures) is what we should do with beef, poultry, pork, and lamb. When meat is seared, it undergoes a chemical change that’s responsible for its deep brown coloring and meaty aroma. Most importantly, searing gives meat its succulent, caramelized crust that so many people describe as mouthwatering. Even though I haven’t eaten meat in about a decade, I still turn to searing when cooking fish because it works just as effectively with seafood.

How to reverse sear a steak

  • 02:18 min.

10. How to bread and fry

I’m a sucker for all things crispy and battered. Whether it’s tempura zucchini sticks or beer-battered avocado tacos, if it’s covered in buttery and crunchy breadcrumbs, I will almost always reach for it and give you a lengthy excuse for why I “need” it. If, like me, you can’t resist a crumbly, breaded outer layer, then frying at home is a great way of countering the unhealthy rep of most commercially fried food. Home-frying means you get to decide which oils to use and what goes into it, ergo more control over the nutritional value of your meal.

How to bread and fry

  • 02:01 min.

How to make tempura batter

  • 01:22 min.

How to reach the perfect temperature for frying

  • 01:12 min.

Have you mastered all these techniques? What other skills do you think every home cook should know? Let us know in the comments below!

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