Knife skills are the most basic skills anyone should have. Cutting your own vegetables, rather than buying them pre-cut, makes a dramatic difference in the texture, flavor and price of a dish. Mastering basic cutting technique shrinks prep time and makes cooking easier and more enjoyable. Many cooking schools offer classes in basic knife skills, but excellent online videos also are available.
Searing is the act of quickly browning meat over high heat using a pan, broiler or grill. Certain small steps — heating the pan properly, patting the meat dry before putting it in the pan — help ensure success.
Sautéing is searing’s more delicate cousin. Used to soften and brown vegetables and meats to be eaten on their own or as a base for soups, stews or other dishes, sautéing involves quickly cooking ingredients in a small amount of fat. The process requires high heat and a pan large enough to avoid crowding the ingredients. Learn to sauté properly in a class or with an online video. And expect to make mistakes.
Blanch & Shock
The best way to preserve the color and the nutrients of vegetables is to boil them briefly in water (blanch), then cool them quickly with a dunk in an ice bath (shock). This technique also helps firm the flesh of a fruit while loosening the skin, which makes peeling (peaches or tomatoes, for example) easier. And it works for herbs, too: Blanch and shock basil before making a pesto for a sauce that stays bright green (not brown!) even after it’s been tossed with hot pasta or stored for several days.
Emulsifying is the process of combining liquids that generally resist being mixed together, such as oil and vinegar. It is used to make basic items such as salad dressing, pesto and hummus.
Chefs test the doneness of meat by comparing its firmness to different parts of their palms. You can skip that exercise, Collin Davison says, and invest in a reliable shortcut: the digital thermometer. For a better and more accurate temperature reading, getting a high-quality thermometer and downloading a temperature chart from the Internet is a must.
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