rosemary roasted chicken recipe
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Kitchen confidence a little lacking? If you’re not quite sure what to do when it comes to making dinner (or anything beyond ramen noodles), take these 10 cooking rules to heart.

Whether out of joy, or necessity, or both, people the world over are suddenly spending a lot more time in their kitchens, many of them wishing that they’d had the opportunity to actually learn to cook. But you don’t have to have gone to culinary school to become a successful cook, home or otherwise, but culinary school certainly will teach you a handful of skills. As a former culinary student and food writer, it was tempting for me to simply share a litany of edicts here that I think are invaluable for those who are currently getting reacquainted with their home kitchens.

Tools of the TradeBasic Kitchen Tools Every New Cook NeedsInstead, I set out to collect some friendly cooking advice from those who did study cooking (and a few successful others), for anyone recently inaugurating their kitchens, and found that from good kitchen technique comes good life advice.

And why not? Cooking is an apt metaphor for life. Cooking is not necessarily an art, but has artistic elements. It involves science, but also the nebulous element of intuition. It requires participation of all of the senses, including the sixth. It’s the journey and the destination, since the end product is something that hopefully provides enjoyment and nourishes you.

As encouragement from former culinary students, including myself, who have gone on to a number of roles, culinary or otherwise, consider these 10 rules to memorize while starting out in your own kitchen!

1. Clean As You Go

clean as you go

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I chose to lead with this one—endorsed by Zev Glesta (Culinary Institute of America) and Ben Earthman (Institute of Culinary Education), among many others—because it is also near and dear to my heart. The best way to ensure the ongoing energy to approach kitchen projects in your home is to ensure that your kitchen is always cooking ready. The best way to ensure that your kitchen is always cooking ready is to not leave the dishes undone. The best way to not have to tackle a mountain of dishes at once is to clean as you go.

Related Reading: 8 Places in Your Kitchen You Can Clean with Vinegar

2. Learn Techniques, Not Recipes

rosemary roasted chicken recipe

Chowhound’s Basic Roasted Chicken

Obviously you should feel free to seek recipes for inspiration and to even follow them, but as suggested by Gabriel Smith (The Cooking Hospitality Institute of Chicago), pay attention to recurring themes rather than try to memorize long lists of ingredients and instructions. Smith’s point here is one that all culinary students must reckon with and that can also serve the home cook well: a proper sauté is a sauté is a sauté whether you are cooking classic French, modern American, or neo-space-age Icelandic. Learn the technique, and the recipe will be easy.

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Related Reading: How to Choose the Right Nonstick Cookware for You

3. SALT

never salt pasta water before it boils

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If there’s one thing that chefs really want you to know it is this. So much so that it was iterated and reiterated in so many different ways; Chris Wegan (CIA): “Salt.” Alex Harris (The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College): “Don’t be afraid of salt.” Kyungmoon Kim (CIA): “Salt salt salt!” In short: salt. If you ever wonder why restaurant dishes taste so much more impactful than that which you make at home, it’s the fearlessness with which chefs approach the seasoning process. (PSA: not everyone responds the same way to sodium, so don’t necessarily let the USDA scare you into submission.)

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Season each component individually. Salt the liquid you’re cooking in. Finish with a little more salt if it isn’t quite popping. And as a close second in terms of encouragement:

4. TASTE

Jason Hopple (Pennsylvania College of Technology) “Don’t be afraid to season to taste. Most people don’t taste or add enough.” Travis Pranke (CIA): “Taste taste taste.” This also harkens back to point number two: Recipes are just guidelines. You need to taste, and—write this one down—ADJUST. If you think something needs more salt, add it. If it needs more acid, add it. If it’s too acidic, balance it out with some more richness. If it’s not done, cook it a little more. Don’t simply settle for “but that’s what the recipe said…” Not all ingredients, tools, and equipment are made equal. Learn to trust your senses more than the recipe.

classic tomato soup

Chowhound’s Classic Tomato Soup

5. Use Your Tools, Correctly

Dmitriy Karpunin (Corporate Sous Chef at Lazard): “Get yourself a good chef’s knife, paring knife, and bread knife. With good knives come good skills.” Chris Wegan (CIA): “Good cutting board.” BJ Evans, (Wellshire Farms): “Buy a thermometer.” This isn’t to say that outfitting yourself with all the latest gadgets will make you an excellent cook, but having a good, basic set of knives and everyday kitchen tools will ensure that you can use your creativity for flavor rather than process.

The verb “whisk” should invariably involve an actual whisk. Certain things require a serrated knife, often called a bread knife, to be sliced appropriately, i.e. bread, which Instagram tells me you are all totally baking right now. (And tomatoes, unless you have a razor sharp chef’s knife.)

heirloom tomato toast

Chowhound’s Heirloom Tomato Toast

If a particular cut of meat should be cooked to 140 degrees, there is a magical way (read: thermometer) to determine when that is without guessing. Cooking should utilize some intuition, but absolutely needn’t be haphazard, and having the correct tools at hand, used appropriately, can guide you.

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6. Stay Organized

David Watsky (Chowhound reporter extraordinaire): “Prepare as much as you can before you begin a recipe.” Carol Elwood (home cook extraordinaire): “Read through the entire recipe before starting.” Time management is one of the hardest things to learn in the process of learning cooking until you have established good habits. Professional chefs use the term “mise en place,” which literally means “put in place,” to refer to all of the prepped components they need readily available before they even begin cooking. You can set yourself up for success by being ready to begin the entire process so that you don’t find yourself in a (literal) high heat moment unprepared for the next step.

Related Reading: 12 Cooking Tips From Moms We Should’ve Listened to Ages Ago

Teriyaki Tofu Stir Fry recipe

Chowhound’s Teriyaki Tofu Stir-Fry

7. Brown Onions, Not Garlic

This one’s from me. Onions get sweeter as they get brown. Garlic gets bitter. Be suspicious of recipes that call for onions and minced garlic added at the same step. Garlic should go later, and even better, added as whole cloves that will infuse your dishes with the sweet perfume of garlic, but that will get removed before you serve a dish. Trust me on this one. Separate the sweet from the bitter? In the kitchen as in life.

how to caramelize onions

Chowhound’s Caramelized Onions

8. Make Mistakes and Learn From Them

Desiree Tuttle (Le Cordon Bleu): “It’s never too late to start over. Have humility.” Alan Wither (Le Cordon Bleu): “You would be a fool to think that the highest rated chefs in the world never made a mistake. What’s important is learning from those mistakes and pressing forward.” Daniel Ford (CIA): “Cooking takes practice. It’s more a craft than an art.” If you want to get good at this, even in the privacy of your own home, commit the time. Be willing to take risks. Apply the lessons you learn. Go a little out of your comfort zone. Do your dishes tonight and show up again tomorrow.

Related Reading: The Best Cookbooks for Beginners

9. Have Patience

skillet pizza recipe

Josey Baker’s Skillet Pizza

Emily Isaac (French Culinary Institute): “Let it rest.” This is both a literal and a metaphorical tidbit. Cooked meats should rest before slicing. Pastries should cool for a moment in the pan before removal. You should forgive yourself for today’s transgressions and approach tomorrow with a fresh outlook.

10. Have Fun

Daniela Traina (CIA): “MORE BUTTER.” I mean, it’s never the wrong answer.

easy sour cream banana bread recipe

Chowhound’s Sour Cream Banana Bread

Related Video: Don’t Be Afraid of Bread—Try This No-Knead Recipe for Beginners


Header image courtesy of Chowhound.

Pamela Vachon is a freelance writer based in Astoria, NY whose work has also appeared on CNET, Cheese Professor, Alcohol Professor, and Diced. She is also a certified sommelier, voiceover artist, and an avid lover of all things pickled or fermented.
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