A Foolproof Guide to Cooking
For Absolute Beginners
By Quynh (Stephanie) Bui | October 13, 2019
Cover Photo by Freepik
Living abroad can bring about a lot of unexpected changes. For me? It was cooking.
Ask my family, and they can count the number of times that I have actually engaged in any kitchen activity with one hand. Before moving here, I was convinced that I would be eating instant noodles and fried eggs for all three years of university (I packed a lot of ramen).
I was stalling and it was not the solution; I needed to ‘adult.’ So, I finally started to cook more advanced meals and quickly realized that it was not so impossible after all.
Coming from a non-cooking type like myself, I truly understand the struggles. Below are my seven personal tips for anyone who is in my position and is looking for a companion in their journey of entering adulthood.
Tip #1: Seasoning is everything!
Often overlooked, seasoning is probably the boundary between inedible and edible. By throwing in a pinch of salt or a dash of sugar, you can begin to taste a tremendous difference in your dishes. This can be done, for instance, by having a full-fledged spice cupboard; mine is stocked with salt, sugar, soy sauce, chicken bouillon powder, and oyster sauce.
However, remember to adjust your seasoning gradually. You can always add more, but be aware that your action is pretty much irreversible nine times out of ten. If you do happen to overseason your soup, add more water. Too much sodium in your food? Simply squeeze in some lemon or lime juice, and everything is going to be alright.
Tip #2: Stir-fries are the way to go! (Disclaimer: not for health junkies…)
My nutritional intake in the past month has heavily relied on stir-fries. Stir-fries are the shortcut to your daily needs: your carbs (noodles or rice), vegetables and proteins. There is so much variety for you to mix and match.
I recommend using oyster sauces in the cooking process for their umami and savory, yet underrated and subtle flavors. Before you cook any type of meat or greens, drop in some minced garlic and diced onions in hot oil. This simple and extremely effective step will add a pleasant fragrance to your dishes.
Tip #3: All about pasta: sauce + pasta + water = al dente
Despite being somewhat lazy and unskilled, my pasta dishes are surprisingly tasty and easy to make. Thanks to the power of pre-made sauces that can be found at any supermarket, you can prepare any and all pasta dishes in less than 30 minutes.
Before you cook your pasta, remember to add salt in the boiling water (shout-out to Molly Baz from Bon Appetit for teaching me this). To check if your pasta is cooked to al dente, simply toss one noodle strand against the wall (I know, it sounds very unorthodox). If it sticks, that means the pasta has fully cooked through and is ready to be immersed in the beautiful sauce.
Tip #4: Get a pair of chopsticks or tongs
As a certified Asian, chopsticks have helped me through thick and thin in my cooking journey. From flipping meat and tossing vegetables to mixing sauces – chopsticks have shown their ultimate power in simplifying any cooking task.
However, I know that chopsticks can be a challenge for some, so a pair of tongs will also do the trick.
Tip #5: Watch YouTube
Yes, you heard (or read?) me right. You can actually become a better cook by simply watching YouTube videos. From basic knife skills to sophisticated dishes, the platform is an excellent starting point for you to observe others and follow their steps. Don’t be embarrassed to watch videos on how to use a knife (I’ve been there!) as it will come in handy in the kitchen.
Author’s recommendation: Check out Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel. They provide detailed insights into a wide array of recipes, and are incredibly entertaining to watch as well.
Tip #6: Timing is key
Like many things in life (relationships, college, the list goes on…), timing is crucial. It can single-handedly make your dish go from zero to hero. As I struggle to control timing myself, I have learned a few principles:
- Make sure to prioritize the ingredients that require the longest cooking-time (meats or hard vegetables like potatoes or carrots) so that they will be fully cooked.
- If you are not the most confident cook out there, cook each component separately and mix them together at the end. In doing so, you can make sure that your ingredients are well-combined but not overcooked.
- Always remember to have your eyes on the clock and on the stove.
Tip #7: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Believe in yourself. Not every attempt is going to turn out well and not every meal you cook is going to taste like it’s from a Michelin-starred restaurant. When I first moved here, I burnt my basic fried rice for lunch; it was not fun.
The key is to learn from your mistakes and remember that you will still have to eat your food whether you like it or not, because you’re not going to waste your own money (at least not in this economy)!
Author’s note: If you have any cooking tips or stories that you would like to share, make sure to DM us on Instagram!
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