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Top 10 Basic Cooking Tricks

This is a first for the List Universe – a cooking topic. This list will teach you 10 very basic cooking tips to guarantee restaurant level perfection every time. The basis for most of these methods is from the French technique.

1. How to boil an egg


  • The perfect hard-boiled egg should have a moist and bright center – it should not be pale yellow and powdery and there should definitely be no signs of green around it (this signifies overcooking).
  • To perfectly boil an egg, you need a pot which is large enough to hold the number of eggs you want to cook without them touching – but do not let it be so big that the eggs can move around the pot. Fill it with just enough water that the eggs will just be covered when you add them. Bring the water to the boil and add the eggs one by one with a spoon so that you don’t crack the shells. Set a timer for 8 minutes. After exactly eight minutes take the eggs off and run cold water into the pot until the eggs are completely cold (this stops the cooking process). You will now have perfect hard boiled eggs.

2. How to scramble an egg


  • The best type of scrambled eggs, in my opinion, is French style – the French style is much more like a sauce than the English style which is usually dry. In the early days of this method, the chef would use a double-boiler to cook the eggs so that the result was like custard. The method here is faster and has more body. You can use 2-4 eggs per person depending on how hungry people are.
  • In a large pot put a knob of butter (between 25-40 grams) and turn the heat on low. While the butter is melting, crack your eggs in to a bowl. Once the butter has fully melted (it should not be bubbling or the heat is too high) add a large pinch of salt and ground pepper to the eggs and mix with a fork until just combined (don’t overmix the eggs). Do not add anything else to the eggs at this time. Pour the egg mixture in to the pot and stir constantly. If the mixture does not seem to be thickening you can turn the heat up just a little. You should soon start to see curds appearing which are the parts of the egg that have cooked. keep mixing at a moderate pace until almost all of the egg has changed to curds. There should still be a small amount of runny egg left. Take it off the heat immediately. Add another knob of butter and stir until it is melted, then add 3-4 tablespoons of cream (you can use more if you prefer the eggs slightly runnier). Taste for salt and if needed, add more. You should be able to pour this thick mixture.

3. How to make an omelette


  • There is really only one rule with an omelette – it must not brown. For one omelette take a small sized pan and melt a small knob of butter in it. Turn the heat to medium low. While the butter is melting, crack your eggs in to a bowl, add a good pinch of salt and pepper and mix until only just combined (do not overmix). When the butter has melted and is just beginning to sizzle, pour the egg mix in to the pan. Using a soft utensil like a wooden spoon, stir the omelette the whole time, breaking up any curds that form. When you have only a little runny egg left on the top take the pan off the heat and put it under the grill. Grill until the top has dried completely but has not browned. Remove from the grill, fold the omelette in half and slide on to the serving plate. You can add additional toppings before putting it under the grill if you wish, and you can also drizzle a little cream over the top at the same time.

4. How to cook pasta

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  • Pasta is a very simple dish that can be prepared very quickly. This technique of cooking will give you perfect pasta without spills. Take a very large pot – a stock pot is ideal. Half fill it with water and add enough salt that when you taste the water it tastes like the sea (this is a lot of salt, but it is necessary to bring out the flavor in the pasta – it is the way pasta is cooked in Italy). Do not add oil or anything else to the water. Put the pot on to boil. When the water is boiling vigorously, add the pasta. You may need to give the pasta a bit of a stir from time to time, to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Each type of pasta takes a different time to cook (though it is generally between 8 and ten minutes) – you should find instructions for timing on the packet. Use that timing but start to check the pasta two minutes before the time is up because packet instructions often put a longer time than is needed. To test the pasta remove a single piece and bite it – if it is soft on the outside with a firm (but not crunchy) centre, it is ready (this is called the al dente stage). Reserve one cup of the cooking water, then strain the pasta but do not rinse it and do not strain it dry. An easy way to serve this (which is popular in Italy) is to mix a good sized knob of butter with the pasta and serve it with parmesan cheese. If you are using a sauce, you can add some of the reserved water to it for added flavour.

5. How to cook perfect steak


  • This is the French method which is always rarer than non-French methods. You need a good heavy bottomed pan or grill and you need to put it on a fiery hot heat. You should use a nice thick cut of steak (I am presuming you are using at least a 2cm thick slice). Lightly salt and pepper the steak on both sides. If you are using a grill, brush the steak with oil, otherwise the rest of the technique is the same. To your hot pan add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil (it should be just enough to coat the pan – you don’t want to boil the steak in oil). Add a good sized knob of butter to the oil. It should sizzle. Ensure the bottom of the pan is well coated with maybe 1 or 2 millimeters of butter. Add your steak to the pan and do not touch it. It must not be moved in the pan while it is cooking. This will give you a nice crisp on the outside of the meat. Cooking times are:
  • Bleu (very rare – the best way to eat steak): 1 minutes on each side
  • Rare: 2-3 minutes on each side
  • Medium: 4 minutes on each side
  • Well-done: 5-6 minutes on each side
  • Just before turning the steak, you can add another small knob of butter to the pan. Turn the steak and, again, do not touch it until the cooking time is done. Remove the steak from the pan, put on a plate, cover with foil and leave to rest for 3-5 minutes before serving. This allows the meat fibres to relax – giving a more tender bite.

6. How to cook rice

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  • Rice is, for many people, a terrifying experience but it need not be as it is actually very simple. This recipe gives perfect fluffy rice every time. I prefer to use Basmati rice which is a long grained white rice from India. This recipe presumes you are using long grained white rice – it will not work with other. This quantity will serve 3-4 people.
  • In a moderately large pot put some vegetable oil and turn on the head to medium. When the oil is hot, add a finely diced half an onion (you can omit the onion but not the oil). Cook until it has softened. Take a regular coffee mug and fill it to the top with rice. Pour it into the hot onions and stir so the rice is well coated. Fill the mug with hot water and add it to the rice – then fill the mug again and add the second cup to the rice (rice in this method is always cooked with a ratio of 1 cup of rice to two cups of water). Add plenty of salt. If you like a nice variation you can add half a cinnamon stick to the water at this time. Let the rice come back to the boil and put the lid on the pot. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and set a timer for 15 minutes. Do not remove the lid at all during the cooking time. After fifteen minutes, lift the lid and, using a fork, push the rice away from the side of the pot whilst tilting the pot toward you – if there is any liquid left in the pot return the lid and cook for another minute, checking every minute in the same way as just described. When the pot has no remaining liquid, remove it from the heat, remove the lid, and cover with a cloth for 4-5 minutes. That is it!

7. How to mash potatoes


  • This method is the French restaurant style of mashing potatoes – it will give you perfect mashed potatoes with no lumps. Peel and halve 6 medium sized potatoes and put them in a pot so they fill the pot about 2/3 of the way. Cover with cold water and add a very liberal amount of salt to the pot (you should be able to taste the salt in the water). Bring to the boil and partially cover the pot with a lid. Depending on the type of potatoes you use, cooking time can range from 10-20 minutes. When the potatoes are soft but not falling apart, remove them from the pot and strain all the water off immediately. Put half to 3/4 of a cup of cream on the stove and bring it to the boil (as soon as it boils turn off the heat). Place the potatoes in to a sieve (the same type you use for sieving flour). Using a sturdy spoon, force the potatoes through the sieve – this is hard work but it is well worth it). Once all of the potatoes have been sieved, put them back in the pot and place this on a low heat on the stove. Add a large knob of butter (30-50gms) and, using a wooden spoon, mix the butter in to the potatoes. While mixing start pouring some of the hot cream in to the mix – this will help melt the butter and adds depth of flavor and creaminess to the mash. Use only enough cream to make the potatoes in to a thick paste. Add a good grating of nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and add pepper and more salt if it is needed. Serve immediately.

8. How to roast potatoes

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  • First of all, the best fat for roasting potatoes is goose or duck fat. If you can not get either of these, you should try to find lard or dripping. Peel your potatoes and cut them in to medium sized pieces (halve small potatoes and quarter large potatoes). Melt 50g of fat per 500g of potatoes in a roasting dish. Add the potato pieces and roll them around until they are fully coated. Season with salt and cook at the top of a preheated oven (190c, 375f, gas mark 5) for 40 minutes. Bast frequently with the fat until they are golden and cooked through. Some people like to partly boil the potatoes first, tossing them in the pot until they get a fluffy outer layer. This is perfectly fine to do but you will need to reduce your cooking time in the oven.

9. How to boil vegetables

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  • Cooking times vary between the vegetables, but this method can be used for virtually all types. Clean or peel (as required) your vegetable and cut into bite sized chunks. Add to a pot and just cover with boiling water. Make sure you put plenty of salt in the water. Place the pot on a moderately-high heat and bring to the boil. You will need to test the vegetables from time to time to check whether they are done. The way to tell is that they should be soft but still have a crisp bite. Green vegetables should not be turning pale green or grey. If the vegetables are soft all the way through, they are overcooked. Strain off the cooking water and serve immediately.

10. How to roast a chicken

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  • Roasting a chicken well is actually a very simply task. Add salt, pepper, one bay leaf, one crushed clove of garlic, and a small bunch of thyme to the body cavity. Salt and pepper the outside and rub a thick coating of soft (but not melted) butter all over the skin. Place the chicken breast side down in a roasting pan (this will help to prevent drying of the breast). Cook in a pre-heated oven (200c, 400f, gas mark 6) for half the cooking time (cooking time is determined by this formula: 15 minutes per 450g – 1lb – of chicken, plus 15 extra minutes). Turn the chicken over and finish cooking it breast side up. Once cooked, put the chicken on a warmed platter and let stand for 15 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle and the meat to relax. You can use a little boiling water to deglaze the pan and use this as the gravy. This method will give you crispy skin and moist flesh.


Creamy chicken lasagna 

Lasagna has become one of my favorite dishes this winter and this is a really nice variation. You can add cream for a really rich sauce. (Good for 6 people)

What you need

  • Olive oil and butter for frying
  • 750g cooked and sliced chicken breasts
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 cup pasta marinara sauce
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup cheddar grated cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 boxes par cooked lasagna sheets
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The process

  1. In a frying pan with some olive oil and a little butter, cook the onions until soft and add the garlic.
  2. Add the cooked chicken and salt and pepper to taste. You can add the chicken breasts uncooked at this stage and cook until white.
  3. Now add the pasta marinara sauce or similar tomato sauce of your choice and about 125ml cream if you need real comfort food.
  4. Your pasta should be boiled for about 7 minutes before you begin constructing the lasagna.
  5. Butter a baking dish well and put 1 layer of pasta on the bottom, then a layer of the chicken sauce mixture and sprinkle over a layer of cheese.
  6. Repeat until you reach the top of the dish and finish with a layer of pasta, Top with the remaining cheese and set in a 180 Celsius oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned in places.


Roast tomato and chicken liver penne

I have been on a bit of a chicken livers recipe mission lately since I had these incredible chicken livers and Prego steak roll at Espresso in Parkhurst last week. Their sauce is incredible, creamy and so morish you need every last chip piece of bread on the plate to scrape it up and then when you are done you feel so good yet so deprived. Anyway, this is something a little different that makes for a really tasty meal. (for 4/5 people)

What you need

  • 500g penne
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1kg tomatoes, try to get the tomatoes that are egg shaped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 750g chicken livers
  • ½ pack bacon (125g) chopped
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • About 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary

The process

  1. Heat you oven to 220 Celius, cut the tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a baking sheet. Mix the oil and garlic together and drizzle over the tomatoes, pop in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine and let them bake for about 45 minutes or so.
  2. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, place them n a large bowl and mash them with a wooden spoon to form a rustic looking paste. Add the chicken stock and sugar and them give them a final mashing. You do want it to remain rustic looking so don’t get too carried away.
  3. Now put your pasta on to cook in the largest pot you have with well salted water. The more water the better when cooking pasta.
  4. While that’s boiling, rinse the chicken livers under running water and remove any fatty or sinewy bits. It’s easiest to use a pair of scissors, then cut then in half and set aside.
  5. Cook the bacon in a pan until it is beginning to crisp up, add the onions and cook for about 1 minute, then add the livers and the rosemary cook, stirring every now and then until the livers are beginning to brown. Add the rustic tomatoes, stir it up and let it simmer for about 2 minutes or so or until the mixture is heated through.
  6. By this time your pasta is done, drain, return to the pot and add the sauce. Toss it around to distribute your sauce and then into a serving dish.
  7. Top off with fresh chopped parsley, a sprig of rosemary, a grind of black pepper and a few parmesan shavings.

Pan fried chicken with mushroom sauce 

If you are dieting this one is not for you. By flattening out your chicken breasts as if you were making a chicken schnitzel they cook a lot quicker, are beautifully tender and smothered in a rich and creamy mushroom sauce, well what can I say, they are seriously good.(4 people)

What you need

  • 4 – 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts butterflied
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Mushroom sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion grated
  • 100ml dry white wine (or chicken stock)
  • 200ml fresh cream
  • Tagliatelle pasta cooked

The process

  1. Butterfly your chicken breasts by slicing them almost through, opening them out, placing a piece of cling film over them and giving them a pound with a rolling pin or wine bottle.
  2. If you have a meat mallet, be gentle, you don’t want to break them.
  3. Season with salt and pepper and cook in a pan on a medium to hot heat with the oil until browned on the outside. Be careful not to overcook them, they really do take just a few minutes.
  4. Place the cooked chicken in a serving dish that has been warmed in the oven.
  5. Now reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and butter to the same pan and cook for about 2 minutes, add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Pour in the white wine, bring the heat up to high and allow to simmer allowing the liquid to reduce by about half. Add in the cream and stir, stir, stir until it has reduced again by about half.
  7. Place some pasta on a plate, cover with a little sauce, then a chicken piece and top with a generous amount of the mushroom sauce.
  8. I like it with a salad, veg just seems wrong!

Try some of the other chicken recipes, or a healthy chicken recipe.

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