Having raised four kids to adulthood, I now have three decades of experience as a home cook. But even with all that experience, I’ve never felt as though I’ve learned everything there is to know about cooking!
Cooking is a skill that I learned both by watching my mom work in the kitchen when I was younger, and by doing it myself over and over as an adult. But with as much as I picked up from my mom and figured out on my own, there are plenty of useful kitchen skills I never would have known about if I hadn’t read it somewhere or heard about it from someone else!
My point is that no matter how much experience or intuition you have in the kitchen, there is always something new and useful to learn as a home cook. And that’s what today’s blog post is all about, because I have 11 practical cooking tips, shortcuts, and solutions to share with you that will help you take your kitchen skills to the next level! :-)
Check out a brilliant hack for keeping parchment paper in place in a video later in this post!
11 Useful Kitchen Skills That Every Home Cook Should Know
1. Cut Veggies Lengthwise Before Slicing
From zucchini to carrots, slicing cylindrical veggies that want to roll away from you isn’t a great way to keep your fingers intact. The key to slicing them safely is to give them a flat surface, which you can do quickly and easily by cutting them lengthwise down the center before slicing.
Once you’ve done that, you can rest the veggie on its cut side without worrying about it moving around on you. Your fingertips will thank you!
2. Chill Raw Meat Before Cutting
Due to its unique texture, slicing a large cut of meat thinly can be tricky at the best of times. You’ll find it much easier to achieve clean cuts if you chill the meat in your freezer for 10-15 minutes before attempting to slice it. The meat will firm up and make slicing much easier (as will using a sharp knife!)
3. Pit And Slice Avocados Safely
To break down an avocado safely, start by slicing into the center of the narrow tip of the avocado, stopping once you reach the pit. Then rotate the avocado around your knife, slicing the avocado in half around the pit, and separate the two halves.
Carefully “whack” your blade into the pit, then twist your knife to remove the pit. Finally, carefully slice or cube the avocado while it is still in the skin (making sure to avoid puncturing through the skin with the blade), then scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin with a spoon.
4. Keep Greens And Herbs Fresh
To extend the life of washed herbs and leafy greens by several days, roll them up in a damp paper towel and store them in a partially sealed ziplock bag. This storage method also makes it easy to spot the first sign of decay: darker spots of liquid on the paper towels.
Take this as your signal to use up those herbs or greens within the next day or two.
5. Revive Wilted Greens
If your fresh produce starts to wilt, try reviving it before you write it off as a lost cause! Fill a bowl with ice and cold water, then soak your produce in the ice water for 15-20 minutes. When you take it out it should be nice and crisp again!
6. Slice Dessert Bars Out Of The Pan
When my kids were younger, there were a couple of times I naively believed they were more than capable of fetching their own brownie or piece of cake from the pan. The resulting carnage quickly proved otherwise, so I wish I had known this clever tip for slicing dessert bars back then!
While preparing your mix, grease the baking pan as usual and line it with a piece of parchment paper. Leave a couple of inches of overhang on each side, then add the batter or dough and bake the dessert as usual.
After baking and cooling, grab the edges of the parchment paper, pull the dessert out, and place it on your cutting board. Slicing even pieces of brownie has never been so easy!
7. Know Your Zests
There are three basic kinds of citrus zest that are called for in recipes: peels, julienned strips, and fine zest. Sturdy peels are useful in braises or as a garnish for drinks, and are easy to create with a standard vegetable peeler.
Julienned (or thinly sliced) strips are good in sauces and make a pretty garnish, and you can make them by thinly slicing a larger piece of peel, or using a zester tool like this. And lastly, fine zest delivers a punch of citrus flavor to dressings and desserts, is easy to achieve with the help of a microplane or fine grater.
8. Roll Leafy Herbs Before Slicing
Leafy herbs like mint and basil can be tricky to slice because of how soft and thin they are. The best way to do it is by stacking up several leaves, rolling them up into a tube before thinly slicing. (The technical term for this technique is chiffonade, a French term meaning “little ribbons.” Apt!)
9. Peel Ginger With A Spoon
Fresh ginger root needs to be peeled before it can be used, but slicing the peel off with a knife can be tricky, time-consuming, or remove more than just the peel. One good alternative is to peel ginger root with a spoon, which can squeeze between the skin and the flesh and leave more of the root intact.
(And if your recipe falls for minced ginger, you can save yourself even more time by grating it on a microplane instead!)
10. Scoop Out Stray Eggshells
We’ve all cracked an egg into bowl only to realize a bit of eggshell went in along with it. Although it may sound a bit backward, the quickest way to fish it back out is using another piece of eggshell. Eggshell pieces attract each other like magnets, making it an essentially foolproof retrieval method.
11. Keep Your Kitchen Clean
If your kitchen tends to look like a disaster zone when you’re finished cooking, there are two things you should learn to love: the garbage bowl and the bench scraper. Having a designated garbage bowl gives you a place to put scraps and trash while you’re work in the kitchen, which keeps your counters tidier while cutting down on the amount of trips you have to take to your garbage can.
A bench scraper can serve a variety of useful functions in terms of keeping your kitchen clean. You can use it like a broom to “sweep” spilled flour and bits of food into a pile for easier cleaning, and you can use it to scoop up scraps or ingredients to move from point A to point B. When used in tandem, the garbage bowl and bench scraper system makes it easy to keep your workspace tidy!
Which kitchen skills have made cooking easier for you?