I’d give myself a solid 3/10 in the kitchen. Homemade pasta is the only meal I can execute from scratch without messing up, and that’s likely attributed to the fact that I spent a few hours learning how to not mess it up at Sur la Table.
As far as my familiarity with kitchen terms go, “stir” and “bake” pretty much sum up the list. Forget about “blanching” or “reducing;” you may as well just speak another language entirely.
While not everyone may find the kitchen to present as many challenges, I’m sure I’m not the only one in Charlotte who lacks basic culinary knowledge (if I am, don’t tell me).
I chatted with Chef Alyssa, owner of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, to learn some basic terms and skills everyone should know by the time they’re 30. Chef Alyssa works with novice chefs, so she’s no stranger to my lack of culinary knowledge.
If you’re like me – or just want to make sure you can execute every item on the list (nervous laughter) – here’s a quick roundup of what Chef Alyssa (in her words) believes is most important.
Answers minimally edited for brevity and clarity.
What it means: Browning of sugars when you are cooking. Can happen with naturally present sugars in your food and by adding them, as in making caramel sauce. Browning of natural sugars means allowing the food to develop color and texture that heighten the flavor.
Favorite dish to apply it: Broiled or blistered vegetables. Apply high heat for a shorter amount of time to mix golden brown and delicious flavor with al-dente flavorful veggies.
What it means: Food is still cooking when you remove it from direct heat. Take that into account when timing when to take things off, and know they will finish as they cool down, at about a 5° increase.
Favorite dish to apply it: White meat. This way it doesn’t dry out.
What it means: Using the length of your blade and gliding through. All too often I see people wanting to chop and put a lot of pressure applying a blunt cut. If you are using a traditional “chef” knife, the motion is a smooth, forward and slightly angled motion.
Favorite dish to apply it: Almost everything. Especially green herbs that brown as they oxidize–it is extra important to use a smooth motion when cutting them.
What it is: A microplane is a fine grater. Most chefs like tools that can do a multitude of tasks and this is one of them. It’s rare to find a class I don’t use one in.
Favorite dish to apply it: Zest citrus, make a paste out of garlic or ginger, grate cheese, etc.
Cast iron care
Know how to: Clean it while it’s hot. Abrasives for stuck-on food can be salt+oil, soft bristle scrub brush and plastic scrapers. Re-oil with a thin layer of neutral oil and store.
Favorite dish to apply it: Crispy Skin Chicken
How to cut an avocado
Some simple tricks can go a long way and with the popularity of avocados these days, I find a lot of people struggle.
Favorite dish to apply it: Guacamole for sure.
5 elements of flavor
What they are: Salty, Sweet, Acidic, Bitter and Umami
Chef Alyssa’s thoughts: Important to be present to balance your dishes.
The importance of using acids
Acidity helps to brighten your food and punch up the flavor. It’s an overlooked element for many home cooks, but next time you taste your dish and think it lacks flavor or needs some salt, opt for a squeeze of lemon or a little vinegar as just a couple simple examples.
Favorite dish to apply it: Citrus fruits.
Using a serrated knife
It’s not just for bread; it can help you get better looking cuts on citrus and tomatoes.
Favorite dish to apply it: Summer tomato salad. With delicate skin, even a super sharp knife can tear it.
What it means: Apply high temperatures, dry heat (no, presence of water or moisture-oil doesn’t count), to create caramelization.
Favorite dish to apply it: Too many things to name, but steak is a good example.