Tom Kerridge’s 10 steps to being a better cook

Top British chef Tom Kerridge gives us ten core skills for every beginner to learn and improving cooks to master...

Tom Kerridge

Given he’s had over 20 years of experience in professional kitchens and gained several Michelin stars in the process, Tom Kerridge is certainly qualified to educate us on the foundations of cooking. As part of his series of exclusive recipes for BBC Good Food, Tom shares his expert tips on going from kitchen novice to serious cook...

Tom Kerridge’s 10 steps to being a better cook...

Know your knives1. Sharpening a knife

Learn how to sharpen your knives first and foremost, then learn how to chop properly. The first thing you should learn to chop is an onion, as it’s the base for so much cooking.

Know your knives: An expert guide to buying knives
How to chop an onion video guide

2. Reading a recipe

Always read a recipe twice before attempting it. How many times have you started a recipe and got halfway through and thought ‘Oh! That needs to be left overnight” and you only have half an hour left to get it ready? So, make sure you’ve double-checked your method, ingredients, the lot.

Meat cuts3. Learn butchery

Understand cuts of meat – teach yourself how to work with cuts of meat that are hard-working and need slower cooking. Then, master lazy cuts like fillet and loin that don’t need as much work and can be cooked quickly. The cuts are pretty much the same for every animal. If you can deal with a whole cow you can scale that down to a rabbit. From loin and leg, to shoulder and fillet – it’s pretty much the same.

Read our guides to getting the most from meat

4. Then use “hard-work” joints to great effect

Slow roast lamb with fennelOnce you understand what needs slow cooking and what doesn’t, try out a new cut. I’m a massive fan of cuts like brisket of beef, shoulder of pork and leg of lamb.

Beef brisket recipes
Pork shoulder recipes
Lamb leg recipes
More slow cooked recipes

5. Set up a mise en place

Mise en place is a really cheffy term (meaning ‘putting in place’ in French).  Basically, if a recipe states ‘add chopped onions’, you’ll have the chopped onion ready in a bowl since you do all the chopping beforehand. It means you can then concentrate on the cooking and not the preparation, giving you an understanding of the method and structure by which you’re going to cook. It’s a much cleaner way of working.

6. Have a go at making bread

Seed breadMaking your own bread is very simple, very easy and actually quite relaxing. It’s also very inexpensive. One insider tip from me – you can never overwork the bread, so don’t turn off your machine too early.

Watch our video guide to making bread

7. Understand seasoning

This doesn’t just mean salt and pepper – consider all of the senses. Salty, sweet, savoury and sour, plus texture. A crunch really does make a difference. It’s all about balance. If you want food to have a sour taste, play around with vinegars and lemon juice. Understand acid too – things like tomatoes and Granny Smith are high in acid, for instance.

8. Taste, taste, taste

This one is simple enough.

Seasonal calendar9. Eat with the seasons

This is for two reasons – normally seasonal food is cheapest, but also it tastes better. Try to buy strawberries in December and they’ll be much more expensive and taste rubbish. As for buying seasonal food, if there’s an amazing local market or a farmers market nearby, I’m all for them, but I’m the same as everyone else and I look for convenience. But while supermarket quality is getting much better, I would argue that you need to find a good high street butcher.

Check what’s in season by using our seasonal calendar

10. Use water as an ingredient with confidence

Water is a completely underused and overlooked ingredient. People usually just get a pan of water and put things in it, but it’s also good to use as a base ingredient, for instance just a little layer of water when cooking vegetables.

Put some of your new skills to the test by trying out Tom’s fish stew recipe. We’d love to hear some of your skill suggestions too – what were the first things you picked up when learning to cook? 

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