Life on the inside: 10 cooking techniques to master
Whether you’re confident in the kitchen already or building up your repertoire, you’ve probably had a lot more time on your hands to cook over the last couple of months.
So, while we’re all spending a bit more time at home, why not tick off some of these kitchen techniques and classic dishes?
1. Homemade pasta
The pros may use an expensive-looking pasta machine to roll out their dough, but it is possible to do without.
Everyone has has a different recipe for the perfect bowl and most say to use 00 flour – but all-purpose will do – and eggs (though egg-less recipes do exist if your supermarket is out of stock).
After kneading, let the dough rest for a minimum of 30 minutes, then roll it out to 1/4 of an inch thick or less.
For tagliatelle, flour the surface, then loosely roll up the dough like a Swiss roll and gently cut into centimetre-size circles, so it unravels into long, flat pasta – and cook for a few minutes.
2. Curry paste
If you’ve always been in the habit of making a curry from a jar of paste, now is the time to master a home-made version.
To make a simple curry paste, first fry off garlic and ginger and add spices of your choice – depending on whether it’s a korma, jalfrezi, tikka masala, or anything else – to the pan.
You only need to toast the spices for a few minutes, but it’s a crucial step to release the flavour.
Next, add the mix to a pestle and mortar or a food processor and pound or whizz to a powder. Recipes will then usually call for oil, and some tomato puree, to make a paste.
Pickling is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine or acid, like vinegar or lemon juice, in a can or jar.
Most veg can be pickled – start with cucumber, carrots or onions – you can add pickling spices to the mix (heated in a pan) for extra oomph, and most recipes require salt or sugar.
Pickled onions will be ready to eat after about a month.
4. Perfect poached eggs
The holy grail of egg cooking, poaching is notoriously tricky. Some swear by a splash of vinegar but many people are simply throwing their eggs haphazardly into water that’s boiling too hard.
Try taking the temperature down to a very low simmer, swirl the water and very gently crack and place the egg into the centre, as close to the water as possible.
Wait three or four minutes before lifting it out with a slotted spoon, gently touching the yolk to check for your ideal firmness.
5. Home-made pizza
While it’s much quicker and easier to order in or buy a frozen supermarket pizza, nothing beats the smell of fresh dough and made-from-scratch sauce – and the kids can get involved too.
All you need is either bread or plain flour, yeast and water. Bind it together, kneed for 10 minutes and leave to prove in a warm place for 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the sauce – tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, garlic, herbs and a splash of balsamic vinegar work well – and reduce it down.
Roll out the dough out very thinly, top with whatever you please, and cook for 10-15 minutes.
6. An expertly-cooked steak
That moment of cutting into a steak to find it’s charred on the outside and exactly to your liking in the middle isn’t just a feat of fancy restaurants – get to grips with it at home and you might miss your favourite red-meat haunt a bit less.
Chefs agree the trick is a really, really hot pan and ample resting time.
Season the meat pre-cooking (very important) before adding to the sizzling pan. Try two minutes each side for rare, three for medium-rare, and four for medium – only turning it once, halfway through.
But it will depend on the thickness of your steak. Rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Be scrupulous about timing – 30 seconds too much can ruin it.
7. A great sauce
A sauce with a consistency, depth of flavour and shine that wouldn’t be out of place on MasterChef is often the sign of a talented home cook.
You could learn how to make a great hollandaise, Bearnaise or peppercorn, but a versatile red wine reduction is a good place to start.
A basic recipe will usually include red wine, beef stock, butter, shallots and olive oil. Balsamic vinegar and rosemary make nice additions too.
Make sure you evaporate the alcohol, pass it through a sieve and add a knob of butter at the end for that all-important shine.
8. A souffle
A French baked egg dish, we’ve all seen many a souffle flop and fail on cooking shows.
It’s true they’re fiddly to make, so follow a recipe carefully.
You’ll need butter, eggs, sugar, cornflour, plain flour, double cream and milk, plus whatever flavour you’d like to add, such as lemon or cocoa.
The trick is to ensure your mixture is lump-free, and whisked egg whites should be folded in very gently to keep the air inside. Don’t open the oven during cooking – they’ll collapse.
9. Hand-made gnocchi
For these potato dumplings, you’ll need floury potatoes (Marfona or King Edward work well), cooked and peeled quickly so they retain their flouriness.
Pass the potatoes through a mouli twice, to ensure the mixture is lump-free, before binding with egg and a little flour to make a dough (a light touch is essential).
Roll into little individual gnocchi and they only need a couple of minutes’ cooking time.
The basis of so many meals, a from-scratch stock will enhance risottos, soups, sauces and stews.
Home-made stocks are much healthier than salt and preservative-laden stock cubes – marrow from the bones is also packed with iron, collagen and vitamins.
Slowly simmering leftover bones from a roast chicken, for example, is also a great way to waste less, and frying chicken wings to add will also release extra flavour.
Simmer for 4-6 hours with onion, carrots, celery and a generous helping of herbs.