10 ways to become a confident cook
It's both a science and an art – here’s how to up your cooking game.
NAIL THE BASICS
Get comfortable with core skills and you’ll open up a world of delicious possibilities. Follow us on Instagram (@waitroseuae) for step-by-step guides on how to perfect crispy-skinned fish, beautiful poached eggs and more.
TAKE CONTROL OF TIMINGS
Entertaining? Keep the menu fuss-free and opt for dishes you’ve tried before. It’s easy to get excited about what you’re going to cook, but don't try anything too adventurous – cooking dishes you’re familiar with means you’ll be able to relax and enjoy time with your friends. Once you’ve chosen the menu, jot down key timings of each dish, working backwards from the time you want to eat. That way, your evening will run like clockwork!
SHARPEN UP YOUR KNIFE SKILLS
Start by choosing the right knife. Most ingredient prep should be done with a cook’s knife. Chopping is one of the most important jobs in the kitchen and using a small knife for this will make it harder. Although a larger knife might feel unnerving, if used correctly you’ll make smaller movements with it, which is actually safer. It’s also important to hold a knife with the correct grip:
1 Clasp your middle, ring and little finger around the handle. Hold your thumb and index finger on either side at the base of the blade, with the fingers curved inwards.
2 Rest the fingertips of your other hand in a claw shape on the food you’re cutting, with your thumb tucked in behind. Make sure your knuckles are closer to the knife than your fingers.
3 Keep the tip of the knife on the board while you are chopping. Pull the tip back, slice down, then push forward – this circular motion will keep the knife controlled.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF SHORTCUTS
Time-saving ingredients save on washing-up and ultimately faff. There’s no shame in using them, whether it’s for a weeknight meal or a Sunday project. These are some of our favourites…
1 Fancy making sushi? Focus on your fillings and rolling technique and let our Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients sushi rice (AED28.75/500g) take care of the rest.
2 Keep a pack of Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients vegetable stock (AED26.00/500ml) in the freezer so you’ve always got a ready-made base for soups and risottos at hand.
3 Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients puff pastry sheets (AED43.50/2x215g) can easily be shaped and baked pies, pastries or tarts – without all the time-consuming kneading.
READ THE RECIPE
Make sure you’ve studied the method fully before you shop and cook. Then, if you’re confident, you can decide if there are bits you can ignore.
Cooking should be a pleasurable journey. So enjoy the process – even the mistakes!”
Cooking should be a pleasurable journey. So enjoy the process – even the mistakes! You will soon find your own rhythm around the kitchen and feel at ease. Even if something doesn’t work out first time round, believe you can do it, keep practising and all will be fine.
LEARN HOW TO RESCUE
Mistakes will happen; and that’s okay. If you over-reduce a sauce, don’t panic, you can rescue it by adding water, vinegar and herbs, bit by bit, to balance the flavour. Just taste, taste and taste some more. Keep cooking and you’ll keep learning those tricks.
Dish too salty? Add a little unsalted butter, cream or yogurt to save it – dairy will dampen the taste.
Too much grease on the top of your braise, gravy or broth? Dab off the excess with a wodge of bread; it will quickly soak up the fat.
Burned the base of the pan? Rescue the top layer of ingredients, spooning them into a new pan to continue cooking.
Curdled your cake batter? Stir in an extra spoonful of flour to make it smooth again.
SUSS OUT SEASONING
We all know the importance of salt and pepper – but don’t just add a sprinkle at the end. Adding and tasting as you go will build layers of flavour, and help you understand the effect they are having. Use fine salt to season at the start of cooking for even distribution. Flaky or coarse salt is best added just before serving, as the larger crystals have more impact on your tastebuds. Grind black pepper over your dish at the end for an assertive flavour, or earlier in the process for a more subtle approach. And remember, there are other seasonings too. A little acid can brighten flavours and open your palate in a similar way to salt – if your dish feels lacking, try adding a squeeze of citrus juice or a few drops of vinegar at the end. And for umami depth as well as saltiness, try soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce or miso paste.
KNOW YOUR TOOLS
Most recipes advise on equipment, but only you know how your tools behave. Invest in an oven thermometer to check that yours runs to the temperature the dial states; it can be the difference between a perfect roast or bake and a burnt disappointment. If you’re forever overcooking joints of meat for fear of them being raw in the middle, a digital thermometer lets you check and is also handy for making jam and caramel. Hobs vary too, so learn how strong the heat is on yours. For baking, accuracy is key, so buy good digital scales and measuring spoons to make sure you can measure exact quantities. And for even pastry, thickness markings on a rolling pin are very handy. Finally, make the most of your food processor! The grating attachment makes light work of cheese or veg, while the julienne slicer is ideal for speedy slaws.
Get comfortable with core skills and you’ll open up a world of delicious possibilities.”
ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE
Whatever happens, remember that it’s just cooking. There will always be another meal, another chance to try again. So put on a favourite playlist and enjoy the process of feeding yourself and others. You can do it!