Step 3: Technique

Techniques before recipes

There are millions of recipes in the world, but relatively few basic cooking techniques – frying, baking, stewing, boiling, steaming etc. If you learn a bit about how each of these techniques work and how to do them well, then you’ve got a solid basis for starting to experiment with different flavours and ingredients later.

A few things just have to be done right

With some meals, like a soup, stew or tomato sauce, there’s a lot of room for experimentation – you can try out different ways of making them and still get edible results. However there are some things which just aren’t going to work unless you start from a recipe, so bear this in mind when choosing where to start with this approach to cookery.

There are only two cases I know of where getting things wrong could actually make you ill – dried kidney beans, which have to be soaked then boiled before they are safe to eat, and green potatoes, which you shouldn’t eat at all. Also you should be careful when cooking meat that it is cooked through right to the centre, not still bloody. (Apart from steak which some people like rare).

Apart from this, there are some things you need to get pretty much right for them to work properly, just because of the chemistry of the way the cooking process works. These include pastry, meringues, bread, cakes, and sugar based jams and preserves.

Keep it simple to start with

The aim of cooking experimentally is to gradually learn what to put with what and how much to use by trying out different combinations and then seeing how they turn out. If you start with too many different ingredients, you won’t know which bit to change next time, so it’s best to start simple and then add more things later when you’ve mastered the basic technique.

Less can be more

If you add too much of one flavouring, it can swamp the flavours of the other ingredients. Also it’s easy to add more of something later if needed, but you can’t take things out once they’ve gone into a sauce. So start by using quite small quantities of flavourings, then increase the amount if necessary while you’re cooking or next time you try that dish.


While you’re cooking, there are always going to be periods when you’re waiting for something to happen. You can make the most of these by getting something ready that will need doing later on – e.g. chopping some veg which will go into a stew when the meat is done, putting on a kettle of water to boil pasta in later, or just tidying up a bit so you aren’t working on a cluttered surface.

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