The Most Important Cooking Skills You Should Master by Age 30
Learning to cook is a lifelong process. It will take years, a lifetime really, to know what the pros know… but there are some basics that, as an adult, you should feel comfortable with. So if you’re turning 30 soon, make sure you can master these essential skills before the clock strikes midnight. Learn the items on this list and you’ll not only know how to make many classic, everyday meals, but you’ll also open up a whole new world of roasting, grilling, emulsifying, and baking for yourself.
Grilling a strip steak is the most essential skill of grilling. If you can do this well, you can truly impress, and everything else will come easy to you. Learning this is also your introduction to a meat thermometer—something you should definitely know how to use.
THE BASICS: Turn your grill to high. Brush your room-temperature 1/2"-thick strip steaks (or boneless rib-eye) with oil and season liberally with salt and pepper. Place them on the grill and cook until golden-brown and slightly charred—about 4 to 5 minutes. Turn them over and continue cooking, using the thermometer to test their readiness. The rule of thumb is cook for 2 to 5 minutes (58°C for medium-rare), 5 to 7 minutes (60°C for medium), or 8 to 10 minutes (65°C for medium-well).
FURTHER READING: Food Network
Since we don't all have grills at home, you should also know the basics of cooking a steak on the stovetop. Visit Saveur to learn.
Every cook should have a signature salad dressing, but it may take years to find yours. From creamy herb to balsamic, there are literally hundreds of different salad dressings to make, and the herbs and ingredients you choose will be what set yours apart. Perhaps the most basic dressing is vinaigrette. Learn this essential and build in your favourite flavours from there.
THE BASICS: The classic formula for vinaigrette is 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil. Put them in a jar, seal the lid, and shake to combine. Season with salt and pepper. To introduce more flavour, you can add lemon juice, honey, or dijon mustard, or play with the types of vinegar and oil you use.
FURTHER READING: Real Simple
Tomato sauce is essential to both Italian and American cuisine, and despite the fact that we all have a store-bought jar or two in our pantries, it's incredibly easy to make. You can make it with fresh or canned tomatoes, and the most basic recipe requires as little as three ingredients. Many cooks will add herbs, sugar, tomato paste, or other vegetables to the pot, but when you're in a pinch, simply ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt will suffice.
THE BASICS: Sauté minced garlic in olive oil in a sauce pan until it is translucent. Add about 680 g of fresh peeled and rougly chopped tomatoes or 2 cans of chopped tomatoes to the pan. Turn up the heat and bring the tomatoes to a simmer. Turn down the heat and allow them to cook gently for at least 40 minutes, ocassionally stirring. Remove from the heat and season with salt.
FURTHER READING: Mario Batali
Roasting a chicken is one of those things that, if you eat poultry, you have to know how to do. Roast chicken can be used in countless recipes; make one Sunday night and it'll feed you all week long! It may seem daunting but it's actually fairly simple and requires only a few ingredients.
THE BASICS: Preheat your oven to 230° C. Let your chicken come to room temperature and then dry it really well with paper towels. Drizzle the bird with olive oil and rub it all over the skin. Season the inside and outside of the chicken with lots of salt and pepper. Truss the chicken (a.ka. tie the legs together with twine). Place it in your roasting pan, breast side up. Put it in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes. Check it with a meat thermometer and remove it when the internal temperature has reached 75° C.
FURTHER READING: BuzzFeed
Pulled pork is your introduction to slow cooking... and it's also irresistibly delicious. Tackling this will get you addicted to slow cooking (life-changing for weeknight cooking)—and make you the talk of the town. The best thing about it is that it requires very little maintenance, so you can set it and forget it.
THE BASICS: Rub a boneless pork shoulder roast with a seasoning blend (whatever you have on hand, but something with garlic, oregano, and pepper is great). Place it in a lightly greased slow cooker. Pour a can of chicken broth over the roast. Cover the roast and cook it on low for 8 to 10 hours, until it falls apart easily. Move it to a cutting board and shred the meat with two forks, removing any fat.
FURTHER READING: MyRecipes
Don't own a slow cooker? That's ok! You can make it in a Dutch oven or a heavy-bottomed pot. Visit Martha Stewart to learn how.
There are many ways to cook fish, but you should know at least one. Not only is it a great source of protein, but it's an elegant main that will impress your guests, and it's also one thing that many non-meat-eaters will eat. So you should certainly have one fish-cooking technique in your arsenal. One of the easiest and most delicious ways is to cook it is in packets of tin foil or parchment paper; this unlocks the moisture and infuses the fish with the flavours of whatever you throw in the packet.
THE BASICS: Preheat your oven to 205° C. Lay a piece of parchment paper or tin foil paper at least double the size of your fish on your counter. Place whatever vegetables you like down; try a bed of spinach, a slice of red onion, and/or a slice of tomato—the options are endless! Place your fish fillet down. Drizzle it with olive oil and season it with salt and pepper and any herbs you like. Place a slice of lemon on top. Seal the packet by twisting the ends of the paper like a candy wrapper. Place the packet on a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes, depending on the fish. Check to see when the fish is done—it should read 65° C on a thermometer and turn opaque when it's ready.
FURTHER READING: LiveStrong
TO PAN-ROAST A FISH FILLET: Bon Appetit
Everyone should know how to make a frittata because you can usually throw one together with whatever you have, and it makes a great weekend brunch or weeknight dinner. Take a look in your refrigerator. Do you have eggs? Do you have milk or broth? Do you have butter? You've got a frittata.
THE BASICS: See what you have on hand and pick your filling; this could be meat, poultry, vegetables, cheese, even cooked pasta or grains. Beat four eggs together with 1/4 cup of liquid (like milk, broth, or even tomato juice) and any herbs you have. Then mix in your chosen filling. Heat butter in a skillet or omelette pan and pour in the egg mixture. Cook over low until the eggs are set for about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
FURTHER READING: Pioneer Woman
As you may have noticed, people can be very particular about their caffeine. Unfortunately we all can't afford to own a Starbucks-quality espresso machine, but a stovetop espresso maker will always do for your espresso drink of choice. (You can also use espresso in a number of delicious desserts.) So much of a great espresso really lies in the beans, so if you start with top-notch ground espresso, we assure you, you'll be happy.
THE BASICS: Start with a stovetop espresso maker like Bialetti (a classic). Fill the bottom part of the pot with cold water—but be sure not to pour past the little brass steam valve. Put the filter basket in place on top of the bottom of the pot. Fill the basket to the top with ground espresso, smoothing the grounds so they're level. Set the pot on the stove over high heat. Keep the lid on the pot. After a few minutes the espresso will start to pour up into the center of the top of the pot. When the bubbling sounds taper off, open the lid and see if it is still pouring out. If not, it's ready.
FURTHER READING: The Hungry Mouse
Artichokes are strange. Really strange. They're like the problem child of vegetables. Once you learn to tackle these babies, you won't be afraid of anything.
THE BASICS: Trim the little thorns off the ends of the artichoke leaves. Slice the tip of the artichoke by about one inch. Cut off the stem, leaving about an inch, and pull of any small leaves near the base and the stem. Rinse your artichoke in cold water. Fill a large pot with two inches of water (and add in lemon slices, garlic, or herbs if you'd like). Pop in your steaming basket and artichokes to follow. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 to 45 minute, until the outer leaves can easily be removed.
FURTHER READING: Simply Recipes
Poaching an egg is scary with a capital S. So all the more reason to tackle it before you turn 30, right? Julia Childs said: “Poached eggs… are to my mind the purest and loveliest of ways to cook eggs." And we won't argue.
THE BASICS: Fill a deep pan with about 4 inches of water and let it simmer until it begins to boil. Add a splash of white winegar and swirl the water with a spoon to create a vortex. Break an egg into a ramekin and pour it into the water slowly, egg white first. Allow the egg to set around the yolk; it should float to the top when the white is set. Remove it from the water with a slotted spoon and gently dry it off with a paper towel before serving.
FURTHER READING: Good Food
Soup is an amazing meal because it is incredibly restorative, yet it offers so much creativity for the chef and so much flavour for those who eat it! It's also quite simple to make, and you can truly make it on the fly with whatever you have on-hand.
THE BASICS: Heat a large stock pot over medium heat. Sauté what ever aromatic vegetables you like (garlic, celery, onion, carrot) in olive oil or butter. If you'd like to use meat, add it to the pot. Add a base, such as stock (chicken, fish, beef) or tomato purée, any vegetables, meat, or herbs you want to add. Let the soup simmer on low for an hour or two. If you'd like to add cream, milk, or cooked noodles, add it and heat. Serve.
FURTHER READING: Simple Bites
Roasting vegetables is easier than sin. You're foolish if you're not doing it at least two nights a week.
THE BASICS: Preheat the oven to 205° C. Cut your vegetables in half or lengthwise (or quarter larger vegetables or leave tiny ones whole). Coat them in olive oil however you prefer (toss them in a bowl, spray them with a can of olive oil, drizzle them, etc.). Place them on a sheet pan, leaving space between them. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, tossing in between.
FURTHER READING: Bon Appetit
If you've been boiling pasta in water with a dash of salt, and removing it from the water at the time suggested by your pasta box label, you've been doing it all wrong. The best (and really only way, once you've tried) to make pasta is the Italian way. Once you go Italiano, you'll never go back.
THE BASICS: Bring your pasta to a boil in very generously salted water. As it cooks, make brown butter by melting olive oil and butter together in a frying pan, until the butter turns a nice amber colour. Add garlic and shallots. Use tongs to transfer the pasta to your brown butter sauce pan—do not strain. Add a ladle of pasta water to the pan. Toss the pasta and then season with salt and pepper. Finish with lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and a bit of parsley.
What cooking skills do you think are the most essential? Share with us below.