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10 skills every cook should know

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Even top chefs once had to learn the basics of cookery. Good Food brings you the must-know skills that will take you from nervous novice to confident cook…

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. TIP: One way to keep tears at bay- sucking on a teaspoon while chopping will keep your eyes dry. Let us know if it works!

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.

3. How to boil an egg

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. 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.

4. How to cook pasta

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.

5. 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! TIP: To make it fluffy, drag the egg into the middle of the pan as it sets.

6. 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.

7. How to stuff and roast a chicken

Roast chicken is a Sunday favourite, but you can add even more flavour by stuffing it.  Use a temperature thermometer or check that the juices run clear, as shown in our how to test & joint a chicken video. To achieve a flavourful and healthy roast, rub the chicken with thyme, lemon juice and rapeseed oil then serve with chopped vegetables.

8. 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.

9. How to knead dough

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.

10.  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 between your fingertips until it looks like breadcrumbs.