The ongoing popularity of food-focused television shows, websites and apps suggests the public’s desire to expand their food horizons and skills in the kitchen knows no bound.
But some people may be falling short in terms of their kitchen skills. According to the market research firm Technomic, 80 percent of millennials say they think cooking meals at home is a smart living choice and nearly 70 percent say they enjoy cooking for others. However, there may be room for many people to improve their cooking skills in the kitchen. The market research group NPD Group found just 45 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 consider themselves to be merely “somewhat good” at cooking, according to a survey from January 2015. Cooking well has become something to which many people aspire, but with time-pressed schedules, some find it difficult to make meals happen.
Those who are resolving to make more time for homecooked meals and sharpen their culinary talent have many resources at their fingertips.
• Be present in the kitchen. The first step to being a better cook is to spend time in the kitchen and give meal-making your full attention. Distractions such as mobile phones and televisions can detract from the cooking experience. Flavorful and correctly prepared meals require attention to detail.
• Learn the vocabulary. It’s easier to prepare gourmet meals once you have fine tuned your cooking vocabulary. Cooking may have some abstract or foreign terms that mix together to form the culinary lexicon. Taking the mystery out of a roux or learning what it really means to roast can make it easier to develop your skills to the fullest.
• Have fresh ingredients on hand. Build meals around ingredients that are available at home. Shop regularly for the staples that can be turned into many different meals simply with a variation of flavor. Before cooking, practice “mise en place.” This is a French term for ensuring all of the ingredients for a particular recipe are prepped and ready to go before the stove is even turned on.
• Read over the recipe and understand it. Trying different recipes can be fun because learning to cook well comes with frequent practice. Understand the components of a recipe and refer back to it frequently so that you know how and when to add ingredients. As you develop more confidence, you can veer from the recipe and expand the flavor profile or make substitutions.
• Recognize that cooking is somewhat intuitive. A recipe can only get a cook so far. As your skills develop, you will develop a feel for good cooking. For example, you will know when a dough is at the right texture or if meat seems to be at the proper temperature (test it with a thermometer to be sure).
If self-guided lessons are not effective, cook with a friend or family member who is a proficient home chef. This is a good way to learn techniques hands-on.