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Everyone, young or old can do with a set of handy skills in the kitchen. Even top chefs once had to learn the basics of cooking, and with a little practice and lots of perseverance, you will be well on your way to becoming skilled in the kitchen.

These skill sets may seem simple; however, the perfection of these culinary skills is what takes you from a novice to a confident chef. Here are some of the cooking skills required, that will help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

1. How to chop an onion

The noble onion is the cornerstone of many dishes, which adds a pungent taste when raw and sweet infused notes when cooked. Take a few moments out and learn how to slice like a pro.

- Use a sharp knife to trim the stem.

- If slicing, trim just past the root end to make it easier to slice through.

- If dicing, trim the root end and remove any long strands, but keep the bulb intact, so the layers don’t come apart.

- Also do this for slicing wedges

- Place the onion on the cutting board, stem side down (this spot gives the round onion a flat service to sit on).

- Cut lengthwise, from the root down to the stem - this action is called ‘pole to pole’, now you have two halves.

- Use your fingers to peel away the papery skin, starting from the stem end (if needed, remove the first layer of the onion to make peeling easier.

- Cutting the onion (2 ways)

· Cut lengthwise, by following the grain. Use the long stripes on the onion as a guide. This yields sturdier pieces when cooked. Slicing with the grain gives a milder flavour and ruptures fewer cell walls. The method works perfectly when sautéing, stir-frying, or for long cook times in soups & stews.

· Cut crosswise, by slicing horizontally through the onion, going against the grain. You will have perfectly arched pieces with a much more intense flavour. Cutting against the grain also softens the texture. Use this method when adding to salads, burgers, or pickling.

- Dicing the onion

· With this method, you will make horizontal cuts parallel to the cutting board. Hold the onion down with your fingertips. Make about one to three cuts, depending on how small a dice you want. Do not cut through the root as it holds the onion together. Now make vertical cuts lengthwise - ensuring the slices are perpendicular to the other cuts. Let the claw-holding technique guide the knife cut so you don’t knock your fingertips

2. Knife Skills

You have now mastered chopping the onions, it is now time to broaden your knife skills and get to grips with scoring, shearing, fine slicing, and more. Before we get to some fancy knife skills, there are a few extremely important things you need to learn to cut with confidence.

- Stabilize your cutting board - the best trick is to place a damp cloth or paper towel under it to keep the board from slipping around

- Use a sharp knife - a dangerous knife is a dangerous knife

Now that you have a stable cutting board and a sharp knife, you can finally get to pick up your knife. When it comes to fast, accurate, and safe use, your grip is everything. You want the knife to feel completely in your control while cutting. Pinch the blade with your thumb and forefinger, and now curl the other fingers around the handle. Pick up your knife and hold it like this and feel how easy it is to decide where to put the blade down on the ingredients.

To cut food, the most important thing is to make sure that your fingers are out of the way, and that the blade is moving evenly through the food. The best way to do this is by holding the food in what is called the ‘claw grip’, keeping the middle of the blade close to your knuckles as a guide, and rocking the blade over the food.

3. How to boil an egg

Sounds simple enough, but a perfect, runny yolk can be lost in a moment, therefor timing is key. The duration of a boil depends on how firm you want the egg to be, it is always best to start with the eggs at room temperature, to avoid overcooking.

- For a soft-boiled egg, bring the pan of water to a boil, gently lower the egg into it with a spoon and cook for three to five minutes.

- For hard-boiled eggs, start in a pan of cold water and bring up to a boil, then cook for seven to ten minutes - the longer you cook, the firmer the egg will be. Plunge the egg into cold water as soon as it is done to stop it from overcooking.

4. Making the perfect stock

A good stock is the heart and soul of your dish and can lift your soups, stews, and risottos to the next level. Never boil a stock, boiling makes a stock greasy and cloudy. It is far better to gently simmer to extract extra flavour. Bring your stock to a boil, and immediately reduce the heat to a gentle bubble. Cook vegetable stock for 20-30 minutes and meat stock for 1-1 1/2 hours.

Cool the liquid down completely. Once cooled, any excess fat will have settled on the top and can be easily removed. Strain the stock and then boil the liquid down, until it is reduced to about a third, creating a wonderfully concentrated stock. Pack your stock into small containers and freeze until needed.

5. How to bake a potato

The humble jacket potato really needs very little to turn it into a substantial meal, however, a few tweaks here and there to your method can transform it from average to outstanding. By rubbing the outside with a little oil and salt and your spuds will have crisp skin on the outside and be fluffy and white in the middle.

Scrub the potatoes thoroughly under running water and trim away any blemishes with a paring knife. Rub the potatoes all over with olive oil and generously sprinkle the potatoes on all sides with salt and pepper. Prick the potatoes a few times with a fork (this allows steam to escape) Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack and back for 50-60 minutes at 220 degrees Celsius. Flip them over every 20 minutes. The potatoes are done when the skins are dry, and the inside feels completely soft when pierced.

For extra crispy skin soak each potato in brine (mix 2 tablespoons of kosher salt into 1/2 cup water until dissolved). Drain and bake directly on the rack as instructed above. Brush with oil during the last 10 minutes of baking

6. How to cook rice

This everyday staple deserves to be prepared properly. Cook perfectly fluffy rice every time with this basic technique

- Always rinse your rice before cooking, using a fine mesh strainer. In doing so, you remove excess starch that can cause your rice to become soggy. When the water runs clear, you’re done rinsing.

- Use the right ratio of water. Add 2 parts water and 1 part rice to a large pot (for slightly firmer rice, use 1 part water to 2/3 parts of rice)

- Bring the water to a boil - once it’s boiling, add a big pinch of salt.

- Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid, and maintain a gentle simmer.

- Cook covered until the water is absorbed, about 18 minutes. (Do not open the lid until the end of cooking time and do not mix the rice while cooking, this will lead to gummy rice).

- Turn off the heat and let the rice rest, covered for a further 10 minutes. During this time the rice will steam and create an extra fluffy result.

- Before serving fluff the rice with a fork.

7. How to separate an egg

Most recipes call for only egg whites or yolks, so how do you separate them out? One of the easiest methods is to crack the egg with the blunt side of a knife, opening the shell into two halves. Now pass the yolk several times between the two halves, letting the white drop down into the bowl underneath, before popping the yolk into a separate bowl.

8. How to brown meat

For meat to stay succulent and juicy when it’s cooked in a stew, it needs to be sealed first. Learning how to brown meat the right way will leave you with crispier and juicier meat with a richer flavour that keeps the meat tender.

- Dry the raw meat on paper towels and let it come up to room temperature. This basically ensures that it cooks more evenly.

- Place a heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat and add a little oil.

- Season the meat with salt just before cooking - adding salt too early will draw out moisture.

- When the pan is very hot, add the meat to the pan in batches. The oil should ‘sizzle’ as the meat is added - if it doesn’t, remove the meat and allow the pan to heat up for longer.

- Cook the meat for approximately 2-3 minutes on each side until evenly coloured all over.

- Remove the meat from the pan and continue as per the instructions of your recipe.

- Remember to deglaze your pan after browning - there is loads of flavour in those crispy bits left on the bottom of the pan.

9. Basic Hygiene

Hygiene and proper handling of ingredients, like raw chicken, are crucial to prevent your meal from being spoiled. Always wash your hands before cooking or eating and touching any (raw) meat. Use separate chopping boards for raw meats and vegetables, and always clean all utensils thoroughly after use. When storing meat in the fridge, use clean, sealed containers and always place them on the bottom shelf to avoid spilling onto other foods

Knowledge is power and to gain more knowledge in the kitchen apply for our 10-week part-time cooking course in Basic Cooking Skills.

To find out more or to apply, contact Steyn’s Culinary School today by visiting our website or send us an email at Alternatively, contact us on WhatsApp on 072 645 5167.

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