5 Essential Kitchen Skills Every Chef Should Master
The journey of every world-leading chef starts at the base of every pot, pan or chopping board. It is of utmost importance that your kitchen basics are diligently practiced and perfected before you can achieve ‘Master Chef’ status. Here are the 5 key techniques that every chef (aspiring or experienced) must master:
1. Knife skills
On your road to learning how to command the kitchen, a clear place to start would be the blade of a knife. Given the amount of time the knife will be spending in your hand, it’s worth knowing how to hold, chop, sharpen and clean it. As you get better at knife work, you’ll notice the benefits - it shrinks your preparation time and heightens the visual appeal of your meal (and you’ll be less likely to cut yourself). When you’re being taught the basic knife cuts, try not to lift the tip of the blade off the cutting board. This will help you gain more hand control and speed up the process. Aside from the dicing and slicing, knowing how to sharpen your knife is just as crucial and is safer in the end, since when your knife is blunt, you’d need to apply more pressure making the knife more likely to slip. Remember to clean your knife regularly as well.
2. Cooking rice
The consumption of rice is a Malaysian lifestyle signature. An everyday staple such as rice needs proper preparation and contrary to popular belief, rice cookers are not always necessary equipment; but they do require less effort and more time can be devoted to your main course. You can also use a lidded pan of boiling water to get your fluffy grains. It all depends on getting your ratio of rice to water right. Rice typically takes 30 minutes to cook, whether it’s basmati or brown. The correct ratio differs with the variety of rice and cooking method as well as how tight the lid is on your pot. Also, consider adding stock to the water to make your rice more flavourful.
3. Preparing an onion (or garlic)
An onion is the most essential of ingredients - it is the cornerstone of so many meals. Getting used to breaking it down with a knife will serve you well. There are 3 ways to approach the onion - coarse chopping, dicing and slicing. With garlic, you have the option of simply smashing it, especially if it’s going into something that will be cooking for a long time. Once you’ve figured out your way around an onion or garlic, you can use this method for potatoes as well.
4. Cooking meat - can you take the heat?
Our meats would not be what they are without the right kind of heat. Whether you’re grilling or sautéing, understanding how to cook your proteins is imperative and it starts by learning how to gauge the temperature of cooking surfaces. Managing the temperature of your pans, skillets and ovens is critical, so you don’t under- or overcook. A tip for knowing when to add the meat to the pan is to flick a little water into it and to see if the water sizzles. Pan-frying is the fastest and simplest way to get the job done (but it can overcook something easily). Roasting is a very versatile way of maximising the flavour of your food and it involves cooking meat uncovered on high heat. A roasted chicken, for example fits well in salads, sandwiches, soups and more. There’s also searing, which is good for seafood and steaks; it adds a crispy crust and scrumptious skin.
5. Making sauces
So much of what we feast on day-to-day would be nothing without its sauce. From pasta to chicken to vegetables, we’ve become accustomed to see entrée and sauce as one. A sauce is essentially a liquid plus a thickening agent (roux is a common choice) along with other flavouring ingredients. Creating your sauce from scratch is a skill that appears so impressive yet is so simple - it’s one way to excite your friends and family when you’re cooking for them. Master the 5 grand sauces (béchamel, velouté, brown sauce, tomato sauce, hollandaise) and you’ll be able to experiment later on. It boils down to getting some ingredients together, cooking them down and stirring them around. With so many cuisines to explore, you’ll come to find how much fun it can be to whip up a sauce to elevate your dish.
If you’re looking to learn how to be a first-class cook, Cilantro Culinary Academy is the place to be. Cilantro is a private culinary and pastry academy that provides vocational education with global recognition. Students are eligible to hold 5 qualifications worldwide with the programmes available. Head over to their Facebook page for updates on programmes and events.
Read this piece on the key qualities that make a good chef for more guidance on how to pursue your future as a potential ‘Master Chef’.