The Basics of Cooking

Question: What are some basic techniques that\r\nnovice chefs can use?\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

Mark\r\nBittman: Well, let's\r\njust distinguish between chefs and cooks because I think this is\r\nimportant.  A chef is a person -- I\r\nknow the word is thrown around a lot but a chef is a person who runs the\r\nrestaurant.  So, people who cook at\r\nhome are cooks.  There's nothing\r\nwrong with that.  People who like\r\nto cook are cooks and I think that's a word that's been sadly denigrated and I\r\nthink it’s a lovely word.  It's an\r\nimportant word.  So what are the\r\nmost experienced -- what are the most important techniques for shall we say\r\nnovice cooks?


Well, reading I\r\nthink is probably very important technique because probably the best way to\r\nlearn how to cook remains getting a couple of decent cook books and working\r\nyour way through them and paying attention to what they're asking and learning\r\na few of the terms and it's such an easy – it's so much easier than playing\r\ntennis, for example, that it's just a matter of starting to do it and then\r\ndoing it over and over again until you kind of get it. 


So it has more –\r\nit's presented as a highly skilled occupation and indeed for real chefs or\r\npeople running restaurants or people doing demonstrations on Food Television\r\nit's not that easy.  But for most\r\nof us it's not any harder than driving a car, it just needs a little practice.


Question:  What ten ingredients should everyone\r\nhave in their kitchen?


Mark Bittman: Well, off the top of my head without\r\nlooking at my pantry, garlic, olive oil, that's two.  It's sort of a hard question because do you want to count\r\nrice and pasta?  Do you want to\r\ncount vinegar and lemons?  Do you\r\nwant to count onions and eggs?  Maybe\r\nthat gets you close to ten.  The\r\nthing is that there are – I'd there are probably 30, somewhere between 25 and\r\n50, but say 30, ingredients that should be in pretty much every kitchen all the\r\ntime.  Ten is not going to do\r\nit.  You can't do much with 10 but\r\nif you have 30 you can start doing serious cooking and if you have those 30 and\r\nyou stop at the store and pick up the piece of meat and fish and some\r\nvegetables, something fresh, you're completely in business.  You can cook half of what there is to\r\ncook in all of the world.


Question: What are common bad habits of at-home\r\ncooks?

Mark\r\nBittman:  That's an interesting question.  People don’t use high enough heat and\r\npeople don’t preheat their pans and their ovens and things like that enough.  If you really want to put a crust on\r\nsomething, the pan needs to be hot, the butter or oil needs to be hot.  I mean, these are things that trained\r\npeople learn.  Home cooks are a\r\nlittle afraid -- tend to be a little afraid -- or beginning home cooks tend to\r\nbe a little afraid of high heat. \r\nSo that's a mistake people make.


Having lousy\r\nknives is a mistake people make and it's not that they don’t have expensive\r\nknives, it's that they don’t have sharp knives.  On the other hand, spending too much money on cooking equipment\r\nis a mistake a lot of people make because you don’t need to spend a lot of\r\nmoney on cooking equipment.  What\r\nelse can I think of?


Well,\r\nattitude.  Attitude is interesting\r\nbecause people tend to be intimidated by cooking and there's nothing to be\r\nintimidated about it.  As I said at\r\nthe beginning, it's really pretty simple. \r\nSo the right attitude is the attitude of I'm going to get something done\r\nand it's going to be good.  It's\r\nnot, "Oh, I'm afraid of this," but nor is it, "Oh, I'm going to\r\nbe Bobby Flay and do something breathtaking."  It's just going to be I'm going to try -- just like my\r\ngrandma cooked for my mom I'm going to try to cook for my friends or my kids or\r\nwhatever, which is normal food, the food you like.


Question: What ingredients and spices are\r\nunappreciated?


Mark\r\nBittman:  Well, spices in general go under\r\nappreciated by American cooks.  I\r\nmean, the spices that most Americans used in cooking tend to be the sort of you\r\nmight call them warm spices or sweet spices like the kind of stuff you put in\r\nApple Pie: cinnamon, all spice, nutmeg, cloves, ginger a little bit.  Chilies are certainly becoming more and\r\nmore popular and that's great. 


Mild\r\nchili powder is a wonderful ingredient that's still not fully appreciated.  Pimenton, which is mild smoked paprika,\r\nwhich is a form of chili, so mild smoked chili powder is Spanish ingredient,\r\nreally fabulous.  All the Indian\r\nspices or Asian spices, however you want to call them, tend to be\r\nunder-appreciated and these are really simple things to use.  I think part of the problem is when you\r\nadd four or five spices to a recipe, it makes the recipe look long.  It makes the ingredient list look long\r\nand no one wants to see a long ingredient list.


So, when writing\r\nrecipes one has to be careful but, you know, spices are really -- if you\r\nreplace them every now and then so that they're fairly fresh, they're there,\r\nthey're easy to use, it's not a big deal and they make a huge difference.


How at-home cooks can stock their pantry with vital ingredients, avoid bad kitchen habits, and make better meals.

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