5 Cooking Skills You Need to Survive Adulthood
Cooking is a huge part of self-sufficiency. As I've said before, there's something absolutely magical about taking a pile of random shit and turning it into sustenance. And yet, while it's magical, it's also not that hard. There's a weird mystique around it, but cooking is surprisingly easy.
I talked with Justin Turner, head chef at Gusto Italian Kitchen + Wine Bar in Austin about some basic cooking skills everybody needs to know to survive adulthood.
Sautéing is a great, basic way to cook all kinds of things. Sautéed vegetables go great on pizza or burgers. You can also sauté meats, if you want.
Throw a little oil into a pan (butter or olive oil both work great), and really heat it up. Then throw your food into the bottom of the pan. Don't pile the food up—you only want one layer. You wanna be able to see the oil; it needs to “breathe.” Just go with it.
Vegetables will get browner and softer and full of delicious butter, and now you can do all kinds of great things with them. Throw in a little more oil and turn up the heat and you're pan-frying, which is also great.
Grilling is wonderful for meats, but it's also a great way to cook vegetables. Throw some squash, broccoli, and onion in aluminum foil with some butter and grill it, or cook sweet potatoes the same way. It's amazing.
However, putting things directly on the grill without them sticking is tricky. Make sure you have a completely clean grill. Scrub it with a brush, then get a towel and soak it with oil. Wring it out and brush the grate with it so you create an oil barrier. When you season the meat, oil it as well, so you have a double-layer of protection.
If you've adequately oiled the grill, then you have a surefire way of knowing when your meat is ready. If you try to move it with tongs and it doesn't want to budge, it's not ready—it hasn't been properly seared yet. As soon as it releases from the grill, you're good to go.
Making a Roux
A roux is a good, multipurpose kitchen basic to have under your belt. It's basically equal parts fat and flour and is used to thicken a dish and provide more flavor. All you do is heat up your fat (usually butter) and add the flour.
It's going to change colors based on how long you leave it on the heat, so don't be surprised. It starts off white, and this is when it has the most thickening power. Keep it on a little longer, and it turns a blonde color that adds more flavor but doesn't thicken as well. By the time it's brown, it adds a lot of flavor to a dish, but doesn't thicken much at all.
If you can take a roux from light to dark, it opens a lot of culinary doors for you without a ton of effort. You can add roux to boiling water to make anything from gravy to gumbo. Chowders use it. Stews use it. It's just a thing you need to have down.
Okay, so we've hit you with two French words in a row. I promise we're done now. But mirepoix is basically just vegetables—carrots, celery, and onions to be precise. You can use this for a lot of soup stocks, sauces, and even salads.
Not only does it get a little plant matter into your diet that isn't a corn chip, it also gives you great practice chopping. You can learn how to dice and chop and hone your knife skills, all while making something that goes into just about anything.
You can sauté it or use it as the basis for a sauce. There are all kinds of things you can do. And once you've got this down, there are related things like the Italian sofrito, or the Cajun “holy trinity” that can go in all kinds of other dishes.
Baking is wonderful. It's one of the more science-y cooking methods, and while you can get pretty hardcore into the specifics of it, you can also just follow a recipe and be assured that it's going to turn out reasonably well. It's as straightforward as you want it to be.
Some tips: keep your dry ingredients separate from your wet ingredients. Mix the dry stuff first to avoid clumps, and then stir in your eggs, milk, and whatever else is wet.
Also, don't over-stir. The more you mix, the more gluten you're gonna form. Gluten gives your baked goods structure, but too much of it and your baked goods will become tough.