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5 Essential Cooking Skills Taught in Culinary School

Most home cooks wish we could afford culinary school.  

Not necessarily to get into the restaurant industry, but to “sharpen” our kitchen skills.  

Recently attending a cooking school function, I learned exactly what the syllabus of a culinary school includes.

Here are 5 basic cooking skill elements taught in culinary school.

I. Knife Skills for Cooking

Knives are the most important tool in your kitchen.  Using them properly and having proper technique will provide less risk of injury, faster prep times and better results in your cooking.

Test a knife grip before buying

When using a knife, watch the non-knife hand, keeping the food steady.

The knife tip never leaves the cutting board surface.  Use the “bear claw” grip to hold food in place and minimize danger.

Tuck your fingertips in, away from the knife and rest your knuckles against the blade.

During the upswing of the knife, reposition your guiding hand for the next cut.

The blade never goes above your knuckle. 

If you are home cooking 4-7 times a week, you should invest in a good set of knives.  I highly recommend Henckel knives.

This affordable, basic set includes a 3-inch Pairing knife, a 5-inch serrated, 8-inch Chef’s, 7-inch Santoku, kitchen shears, a 9-inch sharpening steel and a block. 

  • Stamped stainless-steel blades
  • Knives have black plastic, three-rivet, full-tang handles
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Stamped stainless-steel blades

Use my link and this entire set is only $54.95.      

I do not put these knives in the dishwasher; I only wash them by hand.  Mine have lasted over 10 years!

Read more about caring and storing of knives here:

http://joannsfoodbites.com/buying-caring-and-storing-knives/


II. Four Effects of Heat When Cooking Food

Cooking school teaches chefs to ALWAYS start with a HOT pan.

The temperature of a cooking surface will drop the second food is added, so don’t rush the preheating step at the start.

Wait for the oil to shimmer when cooking vegetables.  

If cooking proteins, wait until you see the first wisps of smoke rise from the oil.

There are four stages of cooking:

  •             150º F – gelantinization of starches
  •             165º F- coagulation of proteins
  •             212º F – evaporation of moisture
  •             320º F – caramelization of sugars 

Brown food first, then work your way back up.  Skip the entire evaporation stage.

For food safety, always use a thermometer.

 


III. Cooking Sauces

A sauce can make plain food memorable, and most are easy.  A simple flavored butter gives fish a lift.

A very basic white sauce with cheese, mushrooms or herbs can flavor a boring casserole or pasta dish.

Usually, a whisk blends a sauce more thoroughly than a spoon and will help avoid lumps.

In the event of a lumpy sauce, pour it into a fine-mesh strainer and push it through, then reheat it, whisking constantly.

Yield: 2 cups

Basic White Sauce

A basic white sauce is essential in many dishes and lends itself to endless variations. This recipe makes a medium-thick sauce to coat food.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat.
  2. Once butter has melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour to make a smooth, soft paste called a roux.
  3. Add about one-quarter of the milk and mix well with a whisk. When it is smooth, whisk in the remaining milk.
  4. Set the pan back over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly.
  5. When the sauce starts to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently for 5-10 minutes. Whisking occasionally.
  6. The sauce will continue to thicken slightly. Add the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.

Notes

For a Cream Sauce, substitute cream for 1/2 to 1 cup of the milk.

For a Blonde Sauce, add the flour to the melted butter and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is pale beige color, 1 - 2 minutes. Heat the liquid before adding it off heat. Bring to a boil, whisking, and simmer for 3 - 5 minutes.

For a Bechamel Sauce. Heat the milk with a chopped onions, one bay leaf and a few black peppercorns until scalded. Remove from heat, cover and left infuse for 20 minutes. Strain before adding to the roux, made for a Blonde Sauce.

 When making sauces, I typically make them in a stainless steel pot, using stainless steel whisks.

If I am making any type of tomato or acidic sauce, I use a coated sauce pan.  I believe stainless steel has a negative reaction with more acidic foods.

 


IV. Herbs & Spices for Cooking

Spices at Sprouts/JoAnn's Food BitesIn culinary school, chefs are taught a golden rule: Never serve anything without tasting it first.

Add hardy herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage and marjoram to dishes early in the cooking process.

Save delicate herbs like parsley, cilantro, tarragon, chives and basil for the last minute of cooking, so they do not lose their fresh flavor and bright color.

Use Kosher Salt for seasoning, before cooking because the large grains distribute more evenly than fine table salt.  

It is not just for looks; professional chefs sprinkle salt, with their fingers raised high above food, so the salt will disperse more evenly.

To learn more about which spices to add to certain dishes; read my post, Worldly Spices and Flavors.


V. Master Your Cooking Methods

In culinary school, students do not cook by a recipe, instead they learn to cook by method.

Methods include: list of cooking methods in black text on a yellow background

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In the culinary arts, once cooking methods are mastered, recipes can be used to improve efficiency and organization.

Definition of Cooking Methods

Grilling – food being cooked on a grill, over hot coals or some other heat source.

Broiling – to cook food directly above or under a heat source.  Food can be broiled in an oven, directly under a gas or electric heat source, or on a barbecue grill, directly over charcoal or other heat source.

Roasting – to oven cook in a shallow uncovered pan, to ideally produce a well-browned exterior and moist interior.  Roasting temperatures are typically higher than baking.  

Baking – cooking food with dry heat, as in an oven.  Usually at lower temperatures than roasting.

Sauteing – to cook food quickly, in a small amount of oil or other fat in a skillet, or saute pan over direct heat.

Pan Frying – similar to sauteing in that food is cooked in a pan with oil, however, sauteing is often thought as using less fat.  

Deep Frying – cooking in hot fat deep enough to completely cover the item being fried.

Steaming – cooking method where food is placed on a rack or steamer basket, over boiling or simmering water in a covered pan.

Submersion Cooking – type of cooking where food is submerged in hot liquids; such as poaching, simmering and boiling.

  Learn how to POACH EGGS in 7 Easy Steps

Braising – food is first browned in fat, then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthily period of time.

Stewing – a method in which food is barely covered with liquid and simmered slowing for a long period of time in a tightly covered pot.


At the Culinary Institute of America, students are not only taught these 5 essential cooking skills, but also about becoming a culinary professional.

The curriculum includes creating a menu, hiring a brigade, making recipe calculations, and the basics of nutrition and food science.

Of course, my interest lie in understanding nutrition basics and the principles for practicing healthy cooking; which we will continue to learn here, at JoAnn’s Food Bites.

Why are YOU interested in FOOD?  Post your comment below!

Yield: 4 servings

Quick Cream Sauce for any Pasta

Flexible cream sauce for any pasta.  Paired with a lean protein, such as chicken, this is a delicious, weeknight meal.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 Shallot, chopped or 2 green onions chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 T. roasted red peppers, jarred
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups half and half
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 t. sweet paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • use pasta water to thin sauce

Instructions

  1. Saute olive oil, shallot, garlic and peppers in pan.
  2. Add half and half, stir
  3. add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, paprika
  4. Gently stir in mozzarella cheese
  5. slowly cook on lowest heat
  6. simmer but do not boil
  7. use pasta water to thin sauce
  8. garnish with fresh basil

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