I have always been a keen cook, pottering around in the kitchen or with my nose in a cookbook. Looking back I knew HOW to cook but it wasn’t until my formal training that things fell into place and I started understanding WHY I cooked. I’m not talking about my own why, I’m talking about the science behind we cook certain things a certain way. Gaining this knowledge and understanding made perfect sense and a world of difference.

I could write a book about essential cooking skills and I border on being a nerd when it comes to the why, so as not to bore you with the science bit I will focus on the basics and keep the “lesson” short and sweet. For a n in-depth 1:1 session I invite you to book an essential cooking skills sessions with me where I will show you first hand, and in your own kitchen, the skills that you would love to master.

In this section I cover the HOW and WHY of a few basic cooking methods. I am 100% convinced that by learning a few of these will enable you to be a more confident cook which in turn will make cooking easier, helping you cook great dishes. Most of it comes down to a simple equation.

Point of interest: aroma vs taste vs flavour

Aroma is a smell and is sensed by receptors in the nose.
Taste is the sensation of saltiness, sweetness, sourness, bitterness and savoury
Flavour is the sense of taste and smell combined.


Roasting spices

WHY: All spices have a unique flavour compound. Aroma is what the plant will release if it either needs to protect itself or in order to enable pollination. Unlike flowers, these flavour compounds are imbedded inside the spice kernel, pod, leaf, seed, root, flower or stem and in order to smell these we would need to activate or release them.

When a whole spice “feels” heat it releases oils and it’s these oils that hold the flavour compounds.  One very effective way to release the aroma is by roasting.

Spice (trapped oil with flavour) + heat = aroma

HOW: The quickest way to roast spices is to put a small frying pan on a medium heat, place your whole spices in the pan and swirl the pan until you can smell the aroma, It takes about 5 minutes.

Tip spices into a cold plate to stop the cooking. You can also roast grounded spices.

Top tip: When in doubt always roast your spices!

Roasting nuts

WHY: Nuts are generally roasted to improve their taste, aroma and crunchy texture. Toasting nuts draws the natural oils to the surface, intensifying the rich nutty essence, creating a deeper colour and making the nuts crunchier.

HOW: Place nuts on a large baking tray in a preheated oven (how warm?) for about 8-10 minutes. If you are impatient like me you could pop a handful of nuts in a pan on a medium heat taking care not to burn the nuts. The taste will always be better in the oven than in a pan.

Top tip: Always soak nuts before you use them for anything and when in doubt, roast!


Blanch and refresh

Blanching is to plunge veggies into boiling water for a short period of time. Refreshing means plunging the vegetables into iced water.

WHY: Blanching and refreshing will shorten the cooking time, so if you are making a stir fry and would like to add broccoli or cauliflower, it will ensure even cooking time with the other shorter cooking time veggies like peppers.

Refreshing stops the cooking process, so you’ll keep the crunch, it maintains the bright colour but also the nutrients.

More importantly, the process kills surface bacteria, especially when you want to freeze veggies.

HOW: Plunge your veggies into rolling boiling water, taste testing after a few minutes, the veggies should still have a crunch or bite to them. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge directly into the iced water, leave for a minute, remove and dry on a tea towel.

Certain veggies will take longer than others. It is impossible for me to say how long as green beans in my kitchen might be very thin and in your kitchen more like big fat runner beans. Tasting is your best guide but a good rule of thumb for asparagus is 2minutes, fine green beans 3 minutes and broccoli/cauliflower 4 minutes.

Important: the size of the saucepan and the amount of water is very important. Veggies need lots of space to cook in.

Top tip: We normally blanch vegetables but you can also blanch and refresh herbs to maintain the vibrant colour.

Cooking onions

Cooking onions is one of the first skills they teach you at chef school and, as it turns out, it’s not as easy as one thinks.

Slow cooked onions form the base of a good curry, sliced as thinly as possible and sauteed over a medium to low heat for a very long time until they ‘melt’. Cooked long and slow, onions releases their natural sugars which in turn reward you with a sweet, almost caramel flavour. Cooking onions this way is not only reserved for curries, think French onion soup!