10 Essential Tips For Learning How To Cook At Home


Atiqah Mokhtar •  Apr 03, 2020

Given the current state of the world, most of us are staying at home as we collectively fight the pandemic. Many people are cooking more of their meals at home too, including those of us who may not be so used to it ?

Credit: Giphy

Many of our readers have shared they're looking to pick-up or sharpen their cooking skills while at home, which we think is a great idea! If you're new to cooking or looking to get more comfortable in the kitchen, we've rounded up some helpful tips to help unleash your inner Gordon Ramsay or Chef Wan.

1. Aim to cook regularly

As with most things in life, you have to do something (repeatedly!) to get the hang of it. And it's definitely true for cooking, which is, for the large part, a technical skill - even if you read up on recipes or watch cooking videos, you can't get better at it if you don't do it for yourself!  The beauty of cooking is that we usually need to eat at regular intervals daily, so the opportunity to cook presents itself naturally to us all the time. The key is to set yourself up to cook in a way that makes it an encouraging and sustainable experience, so you'll be more inclined to come back and do it again and again and therefore get better at it (more on that below!). For now, aim to cook regularly, be it doing it once a day or at least 2 - 3 times a week to get the ball rolling.

2. Start with easy recipes

If you're a cooking novice, start cooking by following recipes for easy dishes - you don't have to make rendang or roast a turkey right off the bat! We'd generally recommend not starting off with a stir-fry dish (like fried noodles or Pad Thai) either, as those tend to have a lot of different ingredients you have to prep beforehand and can be a bit overwhelming for a beginner. Pick a recipe that also doesn't require specialty ingredients that are hard to get your hands on.

Breakfast dishes are often a great place to begin - you can make things like scrambled eggs, toast and oatmeal, and then work your way up to dishes like french toast, an omelette or a breakfast hash. You want dishes that are simple and doable so that when you do make them, you'll feel accomplished and encouraged to further expand your skills. As you get more confident, you can branch out to other easy dishes that also incorporate more techniques, for example making soup or roasting something in the oven.

#HHWT Tip: If you're following recipes, make sure you read through the recipe a few times beforehand and that all your ingredients are ready and measured out before you start cooking. It can be very stressful to be in the middle of cooking to fumble around fetching and measuring ingredients (especially if you're cooking something on the stove!).

P.S. Look for easy recipes to test out? We've got you covered!

3. Invest in good-quality basic cookware, but don't go overboard

The regular cook will have a good set of tools in the kitchen, but don't make the mistake of buying a million different gadgets and utensils that will end up going unused! We'd also caution against buying the most expensive or highest tier brand of something if you're super new to cooking. The thing is, much of your kitchen equipment will be subject to your own individual preferences, so it makes more sense to gauge who you are in the kitchen and how often you'll really be cooking first before splurging on the Le Creuset pan or the Japanese chef's knife that costs an arm and a leg.

For now, stick to the basics, which may include the following:

  • A good knife - a chef's nice or Santoku knife is often regarded as a great multi-purpose knife that's indispensable in the kitchen, used for everything from chopping onions to cutting up chicken or fruits. A smaller paring knife is nice to have too.
  • At least two cutting boards - one for raw meat, poultry and fish and another one for veggies, fruits and other items to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Kitchen scissors - another item that's used for various tasks around the kitchen, from cutting herbs to snipping chicken fat or simply opening food packages
  • A set of measuring cups and spoons
  • A vegetable peeler
  • A can opener
  • A colander - for draining pasta, washing veggies and more
  • Cooking utensils - wooden or silicone works well (as it won't scratch non-stick pans). Having a pair of tongs is handy too!
  • A spatula
  • A whisk
  • A frying pan, a pot, and a dish that can be roasted in the oven
  • Oven mitts

#HHWT Tip: Not able to go out and pick-up your cookware in stores? Get it online through vendors like Lazada, Amazon and Shopee! Certain major supermarkets such as Giant and Tesco carry a selection of basic cookware too.

4. Read recipe books and watch YouTube videos to help you familiarise

We have so many resources at our fingertips these days (many of which are free!), so we should take every opportunity to brush up on our cooking theory in addition to applying it in the kitchen.

There are so many cooking channels available on YouTube that not only show how to make specific recipes but also go over cooking techniques - a quick search can pretty much let you find anything you need. For general cooking YouTube channels, check out Tasty and Food Wishes. For some local flair, check out channels like FiveFootFive Sg and Che Nom! Watching videos is often helpful as you can see the actual technique and method for making a dish being performed.

#HHWT Tip: Jamie Oliver is uploading a series of #StayHome cooking videos on his YouTube channel that teach basic cooking skills such as how to make bread and pasta!

If you're the type who likes to read up and study, you can also get a beginner's cooking guide that will help you learn about different cooking techniques and methods. Another way you can get better is to cook your way through a recipe book. Choose a recipe book designed for beginners (the recipes will look straightforward and not require too many ingredients or steps), and work your way through it - it's a great way to naturally progress your skills! It's handy to choose a book with recipes for cuisine or dishes that entice you (for example, if you like Italian cuisine, get an Italian cookbook), as you'll be more inclined to actually make the recipes.

#HHWT Tip: If you have family members or friends who are already proficient cooks, don't be afraid to ask them for help and guidance too!

5. Master basic knife skills

There are a variety of techniques you can master in the kitchen, but none of them is as fundamental as learning how to use a knife safely and efficiently. So many recipes will require you to chop an onion, mince garlic, dice up vegetables or cleave through other ingredients, and it's important that you do it properly so as to minimise the risk of cutting your fingers. Take the time to learn how to use your knife (again, YouTube videos such as this one from Tasty or this one from Chef Billy Parisi come in handy!).

Another aspect of knife skills is to make sure your knives are sharp! A dull blade will make it much harder and much more dangerous to cut things in the kitchen (as it tends to slip against what you're cutting and may cut your fingers instead!). There are various methods and tools to keep your knife sharp  - this extensive article by Cook's Illustrated gives a good overview of them, so you can figure out your options and find the method that works for you.

6. Learn about your ingredients and their properties

As mentioned earlier. it's best to start out with simple recipes that don't require complicated or specialty ingredients. Just like your kitchen tools and utensils, there will be staple ingredients that are necessities in every kitchen - things such as salt and pepper, soy sauce, eggs and rice. While you should start there, as you continue your cooking journey and branch out to more dishes, get to know the ingredients called for in your recipes and what they bring to the table. For example, fish sauce is a common ingredient in SouthEast Asian dishes, known for its savoury and sour qualities. Herbs such as cilantro or parsley can bring a whole new note to a dish unlike any other, while lemon is great for adding a certain zing that can help brighten up a dish. You should also observe how different ingredients may require different cooking treatments - for example, different cuts of chicken or meat will require different amounts of time to be fully cooked, while seafood like shrimp and prawns may just require a quick stir-fry, as they can become rubbery in texture if overcooked.

7. Conquer one thing at a time

This is another way of saying don't be overambitious ?A rookie mistake is to do too many things at once (for example, attempting many new dishes at the same time), going straight for a super complicated dish, or going big before you're quite ready (e.g. cooking for a large group of people). Instead, focus on mastering one dish at a time, with the simple aim of making something delicious that you yourself would like to eat. As you start getting more dishes under your belt, you'll naturally start pushing your boundaries, becoming more experimental in the kitchen and handling multiple things at once. Try and cook something new at regular intervals as you progress so you don't get stuck in a comfortable rut and continue learning.

8. Clean-up as you go

Cooking your own meals is definitely rewarding, but one downside most can agree on is the clean-up afterwards ?It's no fun to invest all your effort and energy into creating your meal, only to have to face a disaster space in the kitchen afterwards. Unless that's your preferred method of cooking (concentrating on the cooking first and doing all the clean-up in one big session after), it's best to get into the habit of cleaning up as you go!

Try and keep your counter clean and tidy as you go about cooking - for example, after you're done with an ingredient, you can put it back in the fridge or pantry right away rather than leaving it out on the counter while you cook. Or if you have some spare time waiting for the water to boil or for the oven to heat up, wash any dishes or utensils you have already accumulated in the sink, or put away the dishes that have already dried in your dishrack, so you have space when you do your next batch of dishes. As you get more used to cooking, these things will become second nature, and you'll create less mess whenever you cook too.

#HHWT Tip: Wearing an apron in the kitchen helps keep your clothes clean while cooking!

9. Remember to taste everything

While we recommend beginners to follow recipes if they are uncertain about winging it in the kitchen, don't forget that at the end of the day, it's your own palate you're aiming to please! Take the time to regularly taste food as you're cooking to help you get a better gauge of what you like (and what you don't!), and it will help you get more proficient at adjusting seasonings and flavours to your liking.

10. Don't be hard on yourself and have fun

Last but not least, take this opportunity to have fun in the kitchen and make it a great experience! Revel in cooking as a creative outlet, and focus on the meditative aspect of pulling together a meal for yourself. Don't expect flawless plates of food that are perfectly Instagram-ready all the time and don't be discouraged if a dish doesn't turn out as planned - it's a necessary and inevitable part of the learning process, plus you always have your next mealtime to try again. Also, take the time to celebrate the great food you're bound to cook up too and savour it!

In addition, it's also worth pointing out that it's ok if you have to continuously rely on recipes to cook, even as you get more comfortable in the kitchen. While it would nice if all of us were the type who can eyeball measurements, adjust their cooking easily just by tasting their food, and pull together a dish just by pulling together whatever they have in their fridge, not everyone will get to that stage easily. So don't beat yourself up if you're not there yet! The important thing is to continue showing up in the kitchen, trying your hand another dish, and fine-tuning your skills as you go.

Being able to cook a meal for yourself is such a useful skill to have. Not only is it practical and allows you to be self-sufficient, but it can also be a really rewarding experience that bolsters and comforts you when you need it. So if you were thinking of getting in the kitchen and getting your cooking on, now's the time to do it! With these tips, we hope it'll help you start your culinary journey to cooking many great dishes ?