No one is born with Michelin stars – even top chefs began with the basics. Here are our top ‘must-know’ skills to take you from nervous novice to confident cook...
For our 25th birthday, we've been finding out how the nation shops, cooks and eats in a survey of 10,000 people. With 14% of people ranking themselves as below three for their cooking skills on a scale of 1-10, we've put together a list of 25 key skills that every kitchen beginner should know in order to gain confidence...
1. How to chop an onion
The cornerstone of so many dishes - learning to chop an onion efficiently can speed up dinner preparations no end. Take a few moments out and learn how to slice like a pro with our how to chop an onion video. We've also been discussing ways to keep the tears at bay whilst performing this everyday task - apparently sucking on a teaspoon while chopping will keep your eyes dry - ever tried it?
2. How to master basic knife skills
Once you’ve mastered chopping onions, it’s time to broaden your knife skills and get to grips with scoring, shearing, fine slicing and more. Our knife skills video demonstrates how to sharpen and handle a knife with confidence, while our guide to the anatomy of a knife will help you get the most from your blade.
Sounds simple but a perfect, runny yolk can be lost in a moment so timing is key. The duration of a boil depends on how firm you want the eggs to be, but it’s always best to start with them at room temperature to avoid undercooking them. For a soft-boiled egg, bring a pan of water to the 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 the boil, then cook for seven-10 minutes – the longer you cook, the firmer the egg will be. Plunge the egg into cold water as soon as it's done to stop it from overcooking.
If you’ve been put off pasta by stodgy, stuck-together school dinners, it’s time to learn how to cook it properly. In Italy, pasta is always served ‘al-dente’, which literally means ‘to the teeth’ – boiled until softened, but still firm to the bite. To achieve this, fill a pan with double the water to cover the pasta, add salt to taste, and bring it to the boil. Carefully drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes, making sure to stir within the first two minutes of cooking to prevent sticking. Bear in mind that different pasta shapes will have different cooking times, and fresh egg pasta will cook much quicker than dried.
To help you decide, why not read our guide to which pasta to buy.
5. How to poach an egg
There’s no need to buy special pans to get perfectly poached eggs – they’re much easier than you think. Follow our video guide to poaching an egg with just a pan of boiling water, a splash of white wine vinegar and a slotted spoon.
Using a ‘bain-marie’ to melt chocolate might sound fancy, but it’s actually really simple, and will ensure you don’t ruin your favourite sweet treat by burning or splitting it. Our video walks you through how to melt chocolate properly.
7. How to make an omelette
For a tasty lunch or light dinner, you can’t beat an omelette. Beat your eggs until thoroughly combined, pour into a frying pan, and scatter over your fillings - simple! To make it fluffy, drag the egg into the middle of the pan as it sets, as shown in our how to make an omelette video.
8. How to bake a potato
The humble jacket potato needs very little to turn it into a substantial meal, but a few tweaks to your method can transform it from just average to outstanding. Try rubbing the outside with a little oil and salt for spuds that have crisp skin and fluffy white flesh. Follow our classic baked potato recipe for success every time.
Roast chicken is a Sunday favourite, but you can add even more flavour by stuffing it. Check out our video for three ways to stuff a chicken, and use our roast timer to ensure perfect, juicy meat. Use a temperature thermometer or check that the juices run clear, as shown in our how to test & joint a chicken video.
10. How to make gravy
Real gravy made in the roasting pan tastes so much better than powdered gravy – follow the foolproof steps in our how to make gravy video to create silky sauce every time.
11. How to make stock
A good stock can lift your soups, stews and risottos to the next level. Master our easy steps to make homemade stock – perfect for using up leftover bones after a roast.
An everyday staple that deserves to be prepared properly. You don’t need to buy a rice cooker to get fluffy grains - the absorption method, shown in our how to cook rice video, simply uses a lidded pan of boiling water.
13. How to separate an egg
Lots of 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, open the shell into two halves, and pass the yolk several times between the halves, letting the white drop down into the bowl underneath before popping the yolk into a separate vessel. Watch our video on how to make meringues to see this technique in action.
Waste not want not - read our guide to storing and using up leftover whites and yolks.
Bread is a staple, but if you’ve never tasted a fresh loaf when it’s hot from the oven, you’re missing out. Mixing flour with water and a gentle pummelling activates gluten, which needs to be developed through kneading to make the dough stretchy and elastic. Prepare a flat, clean surface by sprinkling over a little flour, and take your bowl of risen dough. Using your fists, ‘knock back’ the dough until it forms a smaller ball, then tip this out onto your kneading surface. Using the heel of one hand, push the dough down and forwards, stretching and squashing it. Give the dough a quarter turn and fold it in half, then repeat, kneading and turning in a rhythmic manner for as long as the recipe states. See this technique in action in our how to make bread video, and prove your bread skills.
Garlic is essential to many recipes, and learning how to crush it with a knife will not only save you the hassle of buying and cleaning a garlic crusher, but will give you a smooth paste, which will simply disappear into your dish with no lumps.
16. How to prepare chillies
Fresh chillies can add a kick to your cooking. You can vary the heat depending on the type of chilli that you use, and whether you prepare it with the seeds or not. Find out how to dice, shed and prepare rings - just make sure you wash your hands after!
For meat to stay succulent and juicy when it’s cooked in a stew, it needs to be sealed first. Browning meat is a simple technique of briefly pan-frying until the outside is seared to give a richer flavour and tender meat before cooking further. Try it out in this lamb & apricot stew.
18. How to cook the perfect steak
Pan-frying is one of the easiest ways to make sure that your steak is cooked to perfection - the cooking time will depend on how well-done you like your meat, how thick the cut is, and what type of steak it is. Follow our perfect steak guide to serve up a steak that’s cooked to your liking.
A vinaigrette is a simple French salad dressing made from oil and vinegar, in the basic ratio three parts oil to one part vinegar. Check out our video to see how to make a classic French dressing, or adapt it with lemon juice, fresh herbs, mustard or crushed garlic.
Hygiene and proper handling of ingredients like raw chicken are crucial to prevent your meal (and month) being spoilt by food poisoning. Firstly, always wash your hands before cooking or eating and after touching raw meat. Use separate chopping boards for raw meats and vegetables, and make sure to clean all utensils thoroughly after use. When storing meat in the fridge, always use a clean, sealed container and place it on the bottom shelf to avoid dripping onto other foods.
The technique varies depending on what you’re making, but you always need to whisk your batter properly to combine the flour, milk or water so that there are no lumps. Get a smooth finish with our video guides for making thin crepe pancakes, fluffy American pancakes, classic Yorkshire puddings and homemade battered fish.
22. How to rub flour and butter
Some find it the most satisfying part of a bake, others hate this time-consuming task. However, if you’re making shortcrust pastry, scones or a crumble, you’ll need to use a technique called rubbing in. This means taking flour and fat and rubbing it with your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Don't be tempted to forgo this crucial baking step. Softened butter and baking parchment are all you need to stop your cake sticking, and with a little know how, you can successfully line any shape of tin.
24. How to make a tomato sauce
Fresh is best and there's no need to buy tomato passata when it's so easy to make. Our simple passata recipe will last a week in the fridge, or up to three months in the freezer - ready to be added to soups and stews, or used as a sauce for meat, fish, or pasta.
A delicious addition to salads or guacamole, avocados have a large stone in the middle that needs to be removed and soft flesh, which can be difficult to keep intact as you open it up. Discover how to prepare an avocado the easy way, plus tips to prevent it from going brown before serving.
How many of the above skills have you mastered? Let us know how you rate yourself in the kitchen via the comments below...