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Be a Better Cook

Master These 7 Crazy-Easy Kitchen Skills to Cook Like a Pro

Brush up on these basic cooking techniques, and you’ll have everyone thinking you’re an expert chef.

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Total kitchen newbie? Worry not. If you can master a handful of basic dishes and techniques, you’ll be able to cook your way through any meal. Even first-time home cooks can master staples like roasting a perfectly moist chicken or poached perfect eggs. You just need the right skills in your arsenal, along with a dash of confidence in your capabilities. 

We’ll help you become a better cook with zero pro training and very little experience. Just try your hand at these seven simple kitchen skills, and you’ll bring your cooking from novice to master in no time (and with hardly any practice!).

1. Roast chicken to perfection

Soggy skin, dry breasts, burned bits and a generally bland bird – the road to roast chicken is fraught with peril. Take your bird from zero to hero with these crucial tips that’ll help you circumvent common fails:

  • Infuse flavor. Generously salt and pepper the cavity; then, stuff with lemon halves, whole garlic cloves and fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme). Tie legs together with kitchen twine.
  • Prevent burned bits. To keep wing tips from burning, tuck them under the body. Roast below 415 degrees to halt scorching.
  • Crisp up skin. Using paper towels, thoroughly pat skin dry and generously brush with butter or olive oil. Baste a few times during cooking to ensure extra crisping.
  • Make meat moist. Don’t overcook – an instant-read thermometer is your friend. Roast your bird until the thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of the breast and 175 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh.
  • Keep it juicy and flavorful. Don’t carve the chicken right after you take it out of the oven. Instead, transfer it to a serving platter, tent with foil and let it rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

2. Whip up from-scratch pasta sauce

Rich, robust pasta sauce is so effortless we’re not even sure why those watered-down (and high in sodium) jarred versions exist. Try these straightforward steps for a 15-minute, full-bodied sauce that’s basically impossible to mess up:

  • Sauté chopped yellow onions and minced garlic in olive oil until tender
  • Stir in canned crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes and dried basil and oregano
  • Add tomato paste and a splash of red wine; simmer for 10 minutes or until ready to serve 

The potential variations of this simple yet delicious sauce are endless. You can amp up texture and flavor with cooked sausage or ground beef, black olives, capers, roasted red peppers, shredded Asiago, pureed butternut squash or a bit of heavy cream. 

3. Master sheet pan meals

For a one-dish dinner (and minimal cleanup), try a sheet pan meal. Dropping your ingredients onto a sheet pan makes meals simpler than stir-fries and classier than casseroles. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Toss vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, onions or whatever you like best) in olive oil.
  • Add protein (sliced sausage, chicken tenders, tempeh cubes or your fave protein) and seasonings, then spread on a large, rimmed sheet pan.
  • Roast at 400 degrees.
  • Stir in fast-cooking ingredients like spinach, tomatoes or shrimp during the last few minutes of roasting. 

Want more options? Layer chicken thighs or salmon fillets over a bed of sturdy greens (collards or kale, for example), or toss strips of beef with onions and sliced bell peppers for one-dish fajitas. Shower with minced fresh herbs and shaved cheese just before serving. Once you’ve become an expert at this almost-effortless kitchen skill, you can make anything on a sheet pan.

4. Simmer a versatile vegetable soup

A fragrant pot of soup welcomes guests, feeds a whole family, minimizes clean-up and can be customized for even the fussiest crowd. And you can make a delicious soup any time of the year in a few simple steps:

  • Sauté minced onions, carrots and celery in olive oil to create an aromatic base.
  • Add a splash of broth or wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up bits of caramelized vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour in the rest of the broth, and add vegetables in stages so they cook more evenly; firmer varieties like potatoes, carrots or winter squash, plus lentils and grains, go in first .
  • Stir in herbs and spices, simmer till just tender.
  • Add softer vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini) and cooked or canned beans; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in greens at the last minute, so they’re barely wilted.
  • Finish with handfuls of fresh herbs, crumbled salty cheese, a splash of vinegar or a drizzle of excellent olive oil.

5. Ace those eggs

Breakfast, over easy: Nothing’s more essential than eggs. And whether they’re baked in quiche, simmered in sauce, or poached and served atop grilled greens, they’re a protein-rich (and cheap) lunch or dinner fix. 

But eggs can be a little tricky to perfect. Try these simple steps for masterful eggs, four ways:

  • Scrambled. For fluffy-soft eggs, use a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat; stir frequently and stop sooner than you think—they’ll keep cooking for a few minutes after you’ve taken them off the heat.
  • Boiled. To minimize cracking and rubbery whites, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and carefully add eggs; cover the pot, remove from heat and let stand for 12 to 15 minutes. For easier peeling, immediately transfer eggs to an ice bath, then gently roll them on a flat surface to crack the shells. 
  • Poached. Poaching eggs isn’t as terrifying as it seems! In a wide, deep pot, heat water just short of boiling. Crack egg into a small cup or bowl, stir the water with a spoon to make a whirlpool, then slip the egg into the center of the whirlpool so the whites swirl around the yolk. Keep the water at a high simmer and cook for three to five minutes, and remove with a slotted spoon.
  • Over easy. Heat oil or butter in a large, heavy pan or non-stick skillet; crack eggs into individual ramekins and slide into pan. Cook for one or two minutes, just until the white is set, then carefully flip the egg over and cook for one minute longer.

6. Make salads not boring

Stuck in a Romaine rut? Toss a fearless salad that’s truly inspired. Sure, there isn’t a lot of cooking involved, but crafting an impressive salad is an underrated kitchen skill.

Start by lacing lettuce with alluring greens, like watercress, mizuna, radicchio, Belgian endive or escarole. Ditch the carrots-and-celery combo for more offbeat options, like asparagus, shaved fennel, sunchokes, wild mushrooms, roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, seared eggplant or shredded Brussels sprouts. Add handfuls of fresh herbs, plus lentils, beans and cooked grains (bulgur, sprouted buckwheat, wild rice) for texture and substance. 

To finish, drizzle your salad with a homemade dressing that’s not balsamic vinaigrette. Experiment with tahini, raspberry preserves, yogurt, anchovies or toasted sesame oil. Then, scatter the finished dish with roasted chickpeas or kale chips to add a satisfying crunch – one that doesn’t come from croutons.

7. Craft slow cooker meals that aren’t stew

Pulled pork tacos, curried chicken, brisket, beans that don’t burn: Your slower cooker is a foolproof, hands-off way to make meat and bean dishes that go way beyond stew. Follow these crucial rules for flawless execution:

  • Start with a small amount of broth or sauce; very little liquid evaporates during slow cooking, so don’t drown ingredients (unless you want soup or stew).
  • For meat, use the right cut; slow cookers destroy lean meats like chicken breasts or beef tenderloin. Sturdier selections like chuck, brisket, pork shoulder or skirt steak are ideal. Optional: searing meat first adds appealing color and caramelized flavor.
  • Soak dried beans in water for six hours or overnight; drain and discard soaking water, and rinse beans before cooking.
  • Don’t overfill: packing ingredients to the top means inconsistent cooking; fill about halfway, no more than two-thirds.
  • Resist the temptation to check on food; every time you lift the lid, it takes about 20 minutes to replace lost heat. If you must peek, do it quickly.
  • Season liberally; longer cooking diminishes flavor of herb and spices. If you’re using fresh herbs, add them at the very end.
  • Start with fresh or thawed meat; frozen foods take longer to cook, increasing the potential for harmful bacteria. 

Featured recipe: Sheet-Pan Steak Fajitas

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