R29 Cooking School: Back To The Basics

There are certain skills you just need to learn in life: tying your shoes, spelling your name, keeping a straight face during your boyfriend's band's open-mic performance — the fundamentals. As a team of food lovers, we count kitchen skills among this necessary knowledge. Being able to feed yourself and others well is not only life-sustaining — it's life-enriching. You may not need to know how to flambé a quail, but you ought to be able to whip up a batch of French toast for yourself on a Sunday morning. And, while you're at it, why not whip up the best?
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Welcome to R29 Cooking School. Today, we bring you The Basics Of The Basics, a guide to those must-have recipes and culinary techniques that will serve you every day. We reached out to the country's top chefs and food professionals to have them school us in their own words and with their own wealth of culinary experience. What we got back was a batch of absolutely life-changing tips, guides, and recipes. Some are meticulous how-to instructions, and others are just the master-class pointers that will steer you around the pitfalls and help make your best even better. But, each of these how-tos is simple, straightforward, and time-tested by industry pros. Look no further — you've found the ones.
Click through to check out our illustrated guide that will change your kitchen game forever. From hard-boiling eggs to caramelizing onions to mixing a perfect martini. These are the fundamentals you need to know and will love for life.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Boil An Egg

For this simple (but necessary) how-to, we reached out to Ron Silver. As the owner and chef of Tribeca's beloved Bubby's, he's been keeping New Yorkers in comfort food like this for years.

Fill a saucepan with enough water to cover the egg. Salt the water. Once it's reached a simmer, drop in the egg and let it boil for:

Three to four minutes for a coddled egg
Six minutes for a soft-boiled egg
Eleven minutes for a hard-boiled egg (what I prefer for the restaurant)

Shock the egg in ice water to stop the cooking process, and then peel it under cold running water.

Insider Tips:
- You can boil the egg in beet juice to create a colorful, dark-pink egg.
- To create a fluffier egg, place it in cold water, bring to a boil, cover the saucepan, and let it sit for 11 minutes.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Cook A Steak

When we asked Jonathan Mailo of BLT Prime New York for his tips on the perfect steak, we knew we'd get a serious answer. What we got was a master class in shopping, prepping, and cooking up the best piece of meat of your life. Follow his lead, and you'll never go wrong.

Look for a nice piece of beef:
- When you go to the market, pay attention to the grades on the beef; stay away from "select" or those missing the grade.
- The primary difference between choice and prime is in the marbling. If you find a choice cut with more visible marbling, grab it (and save money).
-If you want to splurge, opt for prime.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Put the beef on paper towels (both top and bottom) to draw out any moisture:
The drier the beef, the better the sear, crust, and caramelization. Ideally, buy your beef a couple of days in advance, and leave wrapped in paper towels (no plastic) in the fridge, repeatedly switching out the paper towels until the beef is dry.

Heat a pan to a high temperature without oil. It should be super hot, but not enough to burst into flames.

Add a minimal amount of oil, just to coat the bottom. If there's too much fat in the pan, it won't sear correctly.

Right before the steak goes into the pan, season on both sides with coarse sea salt and cracked pepper. Don't season any earlier, as the meat will begin breaking down prior to cooking.

Hard-sear the beef:
Leave the meat on one side without moving it until it's a dark caramel color, typically three to five minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak and the heat of the stove top. Repeat on the other side. The sear is important, as it seals all the moisture into the steak.

Once properly seared, add into the pan one tablespoon of butter, one sprig of thyme, and one clove of garlic (smash on the counter with the skin on — it helps to prevent burning).

Mix together, and as the butter begins to foam, spoon over the steak.

Remove from the stove top, and place the whole pan into the oven for five to six minutes.

Take the pan out of the oven and baste some more.

Measure how done your steak is. Here's a trick:
Unwind a paper clip until it's a big "L" or "7" shape; wipe with alcohol to disinfect.
Probe the middle of the steak with the paper clip; leave in for three seconds and then put the middle of the clip to your lip.

If cool: rare
If room temperature: medium rare
If warm: medium
If hot: medium well
If burning: well done

Once the desired temperature is reached, take the steak out of the pan and place on a rack or plate (away from any direct heat).

Allow to sit for six to seven minutes to allow the juices to come back into the meat, then serve.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara
How To Cook A Salmon Fillet

Chef Abe Hiroki of EN Japanese Brasserie is no stranger to cooking a good piece of fish. While his restaurant is praised for its delicious and complex seafood fare, we asked him for the details on preparing a simple, delicious salmon fillet.

Prep the salmon fillet with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. If you plan on adding a sauce, cover the fillet with flour to better caramelize it.

Oil the pan and salmon BEFORE turning on heat.

Place the salmon skin side down first, and cook for two minutes.

When skin is crispy, flip the fillet.

Place foil over the fish in order to seal in flavor and moisture, then cook for two more minutes, and serve.  
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How To Make A Perfect Pot Of Coffee

For this crucial element, we got pro tips from none other than Giada de Laurentiis, television and kitchen-goddess extraordinaire. Like us, she takes her cup of Joe very seriously. Choose your beans wisely. I like to buy from a local coffee shop where I know the beans are freshly roasted. My personal go-to is Intelligentsia Coffee — an independent company with locations in L.A., N.Y., and Chicago that makes great coffee and will ship right to your door. Pre-ground coffee may seem quick and easy, but freshly grinding your beans at home right before you brew is well worth the effort.

Based on the specifications of your coffeemaker, place the correct size and shape filter into the upper compartment of your machine.

Grind your coffee beans immediately before brewing. You should grind in a few small bursts for just a couple of seconds each time, until you have medium course grinds that are the same size as grains of sand. Then it’s ready to be brewed!

The right proportion of water to coffee is very important, so don’t forget to measure! Like baking, making coffee is a precise art. My standard rule of thumb is one tablespoon of ground coffee per every cup of water plus one extra. It’s that extra scoop that will transform your coffee from the watered-down, run-of-the-mill variety to a strong, full-bodied brew that will jump-start your day!

If you’re making coffee for one, use four cups of water. Measure using the marks on your carafe, and pour into the water compartment of your coffeemaker.

Next, measure five level tablespoons of fresh coffee grinds and pour into the filter. Close lid.

Turn on your machine, let the coffee drip until your pot is done, and enjoy right away! I always top my cup with a shake of cinnamon.

Insider Tips:
- For convenience, keep a measuring spoon in the container with your coffee grinds, so it’s always within easy reach.
- Storing your coffee beans in an airtight container in your freezer will help them stay fresh longer.
- There are plenty of fancy coffee grinders out there, but you don’t need to spend a lot to get a delicious result. You can pick up a simple, inexpensive blade grinder that will do the trick for under $20.
- Using filtered water will improve the taste of your coffee. I recommend running your tap water through a Brita.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make French Toast

Chef Sigrid Benedetti made her start in all things sweet, so we asked for her help in this breakfast treat. Her tricks took our French toast from good to OHMYGODSOGOOD.

French toast can be made with just about any bread, but breads enriched with milk, butter, and eggs, like brioche and challah, make for a tender, rich, and flavorful dish. I even make it with leftover cinnamon rolls from Christmas on Boxing Day. The following makes two servings:

Cut four slices bread about three-quarters of an inch thick.

In a shallow bowl or small casserole dish, whisk two eggs and one-half to three-fourths of a cup of milk or half-and-half with one to two tablespoons of honey, sugar, agave, or maple syrup and a shake or two of cinnamon until the sweetener is dissolved.

Heat a nonstick pan or griddle over medium heat until a drop of water dances on the surface, and then turn heat to medium-low.

Soak bread on one side first and then the other in the mixture until saturated, but not so much that it starts to fall apart.

The amount of time it should soak will depend on the density of the loaf, how thickly you sliced it, and how old it is — a few seconds per side.

Melt enough butter to lightly coat the cooking surface, and when the foam has subsided, remove bread from batter, allow excess to drain off, and cook until golden brown on one side, and then flip and cook on the other.

If you’re not sure if it’s cooked through, use the tip of a paring knife to test the center of the bread and make sure the middle is set.

Serve hot with maple syrup, jam, or more butter with a dusting of cinnamon sugar.  
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Bake Potatoes

Paul Gerard of Exchange Alley provided a wealth of tips from his years in the kitchen, starting with schooling us on baked potatoes. Turns out, there's really no messing this up.

Funny, but when I was a kid at 13 years old, baking potatoes was one of my first tasks in the kitchen. I used to have to go to the vegetable market every day and carry back a case of potatoes. The [guys] on the corners in Brooklyn would call me "Spud" as I lugged the case down the street. The place I worked was one of those old-school "Would you like pasta, rice, or a baked potato with that?" kind of restaurants.

I was trained to wash well, thoroughly dry, pierce two or three times with a fork (to prevent exploding), and bake in a 400-degree oven for about an hour. That's that. Crisp skin, moist inside. Simple.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make Tomato Sauce

Chef David Santos of Louro helped us tackle this simple-but-complicated sauce. Simple, because what's easier than tomatoes and olive oil? Complicated, because everyone's grandma made it better than everyone else's grandma. Chef David cuts to the chase:

You can expand from this simple base to do many different things from tomato soup to pizza sauce to Sunday gravy. The basic ingredients are canned tomatoes, olive oil, onion, garlic, fresh oregano and basil, and salt to taste.

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
12 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups of good red wine
2 large cans whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, pureed with a hand blender
1 small sprig of oregano
Salt to taste
15 basil leaves

In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil until translucent and just about to start coloring (but not golden or browned). At this point, add the garlic and sauté with the onion just until softened and aromatic — about two minutes. Make sure not to brown the garlic, as it gets bitter.

Deglaze with red wine, and reduce by a quarter (this will take about five minutes). Add puree of tomato and oregano. Bring to a boil, and drop down to a simmer. Season with salt to taste, and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, and tear basil leaves into the sauce, then allow to steep. That is your basic tomato sauce that can be used for many, many different things. If you like your sauce smooth, just allow it to cool and blend it.

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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara
How To Caramelize Onions

When it comes to caramelizing onions, Paul Gerard was all for keeping it simple and straightforward. Though the "recipe" is as basic as onion and olive oil in a pan, he explained the technique to make sure you get this delicious skill down pat.

One of the first lessons I learned as a young cook was “Caramelization cannot take place where there is the presence of water." So, simply, don't overcrowd your pan. Give the onions room for the initial water to evaporate before you hammer the vegetable.

Cut your onion in half, and slice. Add to a pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Use a medium-to-high flame, and move them occasionally with a spatula or wooden spoon. One of the best things a cook can know is to just "let it cook." There's no need to be shaking and stirring all the time. Let them cook — just don't allow them to burn.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Whip Cream

For such an important dessert element, we were honored to have chef Ian Kittichai of Spot Dessert Bar tell us how to whip the most rich, fluffy, creamy cream in town — and he delivered.

Make sure all your ingredients are cold, including the bowl and mixer attachment or whisk. This will ensure the cream will set faster.

Take one cup cold heavy cream, and whip it in a cold bowl with a handheld blender on high speed for approximately one minute, or until medium-sized peaks form. If whisking by hand, it will take two to three minutes to get adequate peaks. Don't over-whip!

Insider Tip:
To make whipped cream into crème Chantilly, add one tablespoon of icing sugar and one-half teaspoon vanilla extract.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make Chocolate-Chip Cookies

Look, everyone has their favorite recipe for this classic. When we asked Sigrid Benedetti to give us the recipe, she set us straight. The key is to pick a recipe you like — and to follow these insider tips on making your perfect cookie perfect-er.

There are many good chocolate-chip-cookie recipes out there, and I’ve made lots of them. My favorite right now is from Cook's Illustrated and involves browned butter and no machines required for mixing. But whatever recipe you use, the most important thing is to USE GOOD CHOCOLATE! Forgo the common chocolate chip (but keep the recipe on the bag — tried and true!), and chop up a good bar of eating chocolate, or find a 60% chip. You will notice the difference.

To keep a nice, consistently round shape, use a level cookie scoop. You can also chill the dough until firm, then roll one- to one-and-a-half-inch logs of cookie dough wrapped in plastic or parchment and slice off half-inch slices. They’ll cook evenly and be nice and round. This second method also allows you to cook only as many as you want to eat at a time. Ed. note: Good luck with that.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara
How To Carve a Chicken

For such a common dish, many people still pass the knife when it comes to carving a chicken. The truth? Anyone can do it. But, Giada de Laurentiis helped us learn how to do it neatly, precisely, and with minimal effort.

Before you begin carving, let your chicken rest for 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven.

Bend a leg away from the body until the joint pops apart. Then, use a sharp knife to cut the leg from the body through the separated joint.

Separate the drumstick from the thigh by cutting through the joint with a chef’s knife. It should be fairly easy, with little resistance.

Separate one side of the breast from the body by cutting along the breastbone with the tip of your boning knife. Work from the tail end of the bird toward the wing end. When you hit the wishbone, angle the knife and cut down along the wishbone toward the wing. Then, make a cut between the breast and the wing.

Finish separating the breast by pulling back on the meat and cutting the meat away from the body. Finally, cut through the last of the skin, holding the breast onto the body. If you want smaller pieces, set the breast on the cutting board, and, holding the knife at a 45-degree angle, slice it crosswise, either in half or into thin slices.

Plate, serve, and enjoy!
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Cook Quinoa

Jonathan Neman, Nicolas Jammet, and Nathaniel Ru founded Sweetgreen, an organic salad joint that's the sustainable, high-quality answer to your deli-bar greens. So, they know their way around healthy ingredients. Quinoa is one of their most popular items — and one of our favorites too! Here's how to nail it.

Start by rinsing. Soak the quinoa for a few minutes, and then run under cold water with a fine strainer, draining away all excess liquid.

The quinoa-to-water cooking ratio is somewhere between 1:1½ and 1:2, depending on the specific quinoa you are using, so check the bag or box.

Put quinoa in a pot, add water (or broth), and bring to a boil. Lower to a low simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed.

Always let the quinoa rest uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes after it has been cooked. Allowing it to release steam will give it a fluffy texture.

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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make A Martini

Just as necessary as coffee is the perfectly executed martini. For this, we turned to Marshall Altier, renowned mixologist and author of How To Booze, who gave us the secrets to his personal favorite.

One of my favorite gentlemanly variations of the archetypal dry-gin martini is called the Tuxedo No. 2, or Turf Club Cocktail. While this one in and of itself stirs up a bit of controversy as to its origins, my favorite take on it was published in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book from 1930.

Tuxedo No.2 (Turf Club) Cocktail:
2 oz London dry or Plymouth Gin
¾ oz dry vermouth (Dolin or Noilly Pratt)
¼ oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Regan’s orange bitters

Pour all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 20 to 25 seconds.

Place about ½ teaspoon of absinthe into a chilled martini or coupe glass. Spread the absinthe around in an even layer by twisting the glass at a 45-degree angle while putting some English on it to distribute the absinthe evenly over the inside of the glass. This is known as a “rinse.”

Strain the cocktail into the chilled martini or coupe glass.

Use a vegetable peeler to take a long peel from a lemon. Squeeze the peel on both ends to express the oil from the rind over top of the drink, then rub the oils on the outside of the glass’s lip. This serves like top notes of a perfume, to get your mouth watering for that first sip. Enjoy.

Insider Tips:
- Use a gin that has some body and texture but highlights the spirit's namesake quintessential ingredient: juniper berries.

- Stir this drink. The relatively similar densities of the ingredients here make them want to mix fairly easily. Use a mixing glass and bar spoon to gently stir the drink for the purpose of mixing, chilling, and diluting the ingredients while keeping oxygen out, therefore maintaining the silky-smooth texture inherent in the spirits.

- Keep your vermouth fresh. Vermouth is a beautiful addition to this classic that many people shy away from in our time of very cold vodka simply shaken and poured in a glass passing for a martini. It’s my belief that one of the reasons the nouveau “dry” martini has taken hold is because of the systematic misuse of “French” or “dry” vermouth. Use one like Doiln or Noilly Pratt, and keep it closed and chilled after opening. After all, this is just fortified white wine, and it will spoil accordingly.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make Vegetable Stock

There's nothing easier than throwing a cube of bullion into a pot, but when you do that, you're also adding a lot of fake flavor and unnecessary sodium. Once you go stock, you never go back. Paul Gerard shows us how to whip up an easy, delicious vegetable base.

When it comes to stocks, I'm a serious purist: no stems, skins, or peelings. I don't like to use scraps one wouldn't eat for the base of every dish on the menu. Stock is the foundation. My vegetable stock is more like a tea. It can be made with most vegetables — avoiding strong, overpowering, or bitter produce like nightshades and peppers, but that’s just me. You can do whatever pleases your palate. For instance, if I'm making a dish with fennel, I may make a fennel-heavy stock, etc.

For the most part, my vegetable stock will be built on a basic mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrot at a 2:1:1 ratio), with the addition of whatever the main ingredient is in the dish — or a mélange of everything I have on hand that I don't want to go to waste.

Cut the vegetables down to cook quicker. Not too small, and cuts don't need to be perfect.

Put one part vegetable to two parts water. Less water is a more concentrated stock; more water will be lighter.

Bring the stock to a boil, and then simmer for 20 minutes. Vegetables, unlike an animal carcass, don't need a lot of cooking time to release flavor. Strain. That’s that.

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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make Chocolate Mousse

Let's get serious, people. If you can make a good chocolate mousse, you can get away with a lot of things in this life. Sigrid Benedetti gives us the rundown.

Try this super-simple recipe. It has just three mandatory ingredients but comes with endless variations.

Separate three eggs, and put the whites in a clean, dry bowl.

Bring one cup heavy cream to a boil, and pour over six to eight ounces of chocolate (anything from milk chocolate to bittersweet, but don’t go higher than 72%). Let sit for a minute, and whisk smooth.

Whisk the three yolks into the hot mixture, and let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. It will thicken up nicely.

Whip the three whites just until soft peaks form, but be careful not to beat dry. Fold into the cooled chocolate in three parts, incorporating well in between adding each part. Pour into serving bowls/dishes, and chill several hours.

Serve with crunchy cookies and whipped-cream garnishes, if you'd like.

Variations
Liqueur: One tablespoon any liqueur, cognac, brandy, or even whiskey added to chocolate with the yolks.
Orange: Add one teaspoon finely shredded orange zest to the cream as it boils and one tablespoon orange liqueur with the yolks.
Spices: Steep a cinnamon stick, fresh ginger slices, a star anise, or a few cloves for 15 minutes in the boiled cream. Bring back to a boil, and strain out solids before adding to chocolate.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make An Omelet

Another necessary egg skill, the perfect omelet can make a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We reached out to Stephanie Rubin and Ingrid Calvo of IN'BOX, a healthy-lunch delivery service, to help us whip one up. Add any cheese, meat, or veggies you enjoy, but this base will never steer you wrong.

Crack two eggs into a mixing bowl, and beat them with whisk.

Heat a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add enough butter to coat the pan, and let it melt.

Add two tablespoons milk to the eggs, and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Whisk the mixture as much as possible to bring air into the eggs.

Pour the mixture into the pan, cook it for about one minute.

Gently flip the omelet over using a heat-resistant rubber spatula, if necessary. Cook for another few seconds, or until there is no uncooked egg left.

With your spatula, fold half the omelet over the other half. Cook for another minute or so.

Transfer the finished omelet to a plate and serve!
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Chop An Onion

For such a basic skill, many of us still avoid this kitchen task at all costs. Giada de Laurentis steps in once again to save the day. Here's how you do it right.

First and foremost, a good, sharp knife is essential. Choose a utility all-purpose chef’s knife that you feel comfortable with.

Cut off the top and bottom of the onion.

Then, I like to peel my onion. Gently cut down the side of the onion to easily remove the paper-like exterior layers.

Then, trim one end of the onion so it is stable on your cutting board.

Next, cut the onion in half through the root, you now have two half-moon shapes on your board.

With the cut side down, and your fingers near the root, make a few slices across the onion (keeping the root in tact).

Then slice a few rows from the bottom of the cutting board to the top of the onion, be careful not to cut the root.

Now, you can slice the onion and each piece will fall away in perfectly chopped little cubes. Voila!

Insider Tips:
- If your eyes are sensitive and tend to water up when handling onions, try refrigerating your onion before you begin chopping.
- Maximize your workspace by keeping your cutting board clear of debris. Discard unwanted peels as you go.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Roast Vegetables

Is there anything more healthy and delicious on a chilly night than a plate of toasty, roasted vegetables? Paul Gerard gave us a ton of tips on how to make this cold-weather classic with perfect flavor, no matter what veggie you're roasting.

Be careful to not crowd the roasting pan. This will create steam, and your vegetables will turn to mush before they get color. Add a light sprinkle of olive oil, salt, and pepper; crank your oven as high as it goes; and roast until dark and delicious.

One of the biggest crowd-pleasers at Exchange Alley is the burnt broccoli with garlic and chilis. Everyone is always amazed and often remark that they would've thrown it away thinking it inedible, but the aggressive flavor of char and carbon is something that most find surprisingly appealing. It's a major distinction between the home cook and the chef. Chefs are adept in "MORE!" More lemon, more spice, more salt — more char! Don't be afraid to push your limits.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Cut A Mango

For such a wonderful fruit, mangoes give us the MOST frustration when it comes to slicing them up. Sick of butchering this fruit into mush, we got none other than Suzanne Couch, culinary director of Miss Lily's, to show us the ropes.

There are two ways to cut a mango. The original method is to slice each cheek off and score a grid of squares, folding the cheek outward to get to the cubes. From there, it's simple to pull or slice the cubes off.

For the second method, cut down the middle circumference, along the edge of the seed. Twist the two halves and pull apart. One side will have the seed, and the other will have just a pocket. When you remove the seed, you can fill both halves with fruit salad — or better yet, ice cream!
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Cut An Avocado

Almost as tricky as the mango, an avocado can often get mushed with too much handling, so it's important to know how to cut it correctly. Ken Addington of Five Leaves showed us two ways to do this with minimal effort. Remember, practice makes perfect (and guacamole, in this case).

There are two main ways to cut an avocado, depending on your end goal. Both start out the same way:

Set your avocado on its side, and, using a small sharp knife, cut straight into the skin halfway up the side and press in gently until you hit the hard pit. Holding your knife steady, turn the avocado 360 degrees until you have cut all the way around. Remove your knife, and, taking the avocado in your hands, twist the halves in opposite directions until it's loosened and the fruit comes apart in two pieces. The pit should be attached to one side. Remove it by gently digging a spoon in around the pit to wedge free.

Once you have your pit-free avocado sections, what’s the plan? If you are crushing or pureeing your avocado for guacamole or dressing, you don’t really need them to be perfectly cut. Take your little knife and score the flesh of the avocado in a crosshatch pattern, big or small cuts suited to your end result. Run a kitchen spoon tight along the inside of the skin to release the cubes. At this point, it’s a good idea to toss your resulting pile of avocado with a touch of lemon to keep it form turning brown.

If you want slices, split and pit as above, then scoop out the entire half with a large kitchen spoon. Set it cut side down on a cutting board and slice long strips to your desired thickness. If you aren’t planning to eat it right away, remember to dress with a little lemon.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara
How To Cook Pasta

Here's one mandatory skill we've all probably tried. But, the truth is there are a lot of pasta-cooking myths out there and even more opinions about how to do this "right." This guide from Paul Gerard is the "rightest" we've ever gotten it. Here are his dos and do NOTs.

Start with a lot of water. Pasta needs room to move.

Add the salt to boiling water RIGHT BEFORE you drop the pasta in. The salt will raise the temperature of the water.

Never put oil in your water. You want the pasta "dry," so your sauce will cling better. Oil may be used if precooking your pasta (and why would you do that?), but even then, the pasta will need to be flash-dropped in boiling water before it is sauced to remove the oil.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Make Vinaigrette

The founders of Sweetgreen spent the early days of the restaurant mixing up salads and dressings for the crowds themselves. When it comes to a great vinaigrette, these guys are THE pros. Let's learn from the masters.

There are infinite possibilities with vinaigrette! For a basic one, use vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and oil. The acid-to-fat ratio (in this case, vinegar to oil) should always be 1:3.

First, mix all ingredients except the oil, then slowly whisk the oil in. If you are making a small amount for one salad, use a fork or spoon.

You can vary the taste of the vinaigrette, making it lighter, more citrusy, sweeter, or creamier by adding a squeeze of lemon or lime, fresh herbs, honey, maple syrup, fruits, olives, shallots, tahini, yogurt, etc. As long as you keep the 1:3 acid-to-fat ratio and use good ingredients, you will get a great-tasting dressing!
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Braise

On a cold winter day, there is simply nothing better than something slowly braising in your oven. Timothy Fischer, executive chef of Crystal Springs, explained that this is the best way to cook tougher cuts of meat (but it works beautifully on veggies, too).

Remove the meat from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking to bring to room temperature. (It cooks better when not straight out of the refrigerator.)

Season the meat on all sides liberally with salt and pepper. If you have a larger roast, you can inject flavoring such as herbs or garlic simply by making a slit in the meat and stuffing whole garlic or whole herbs in it.

In an oiled pan, sear the seasoned meat over high heat on all sides until completely browned or caramelization (a.k.a. Maillard reaction) occurs. This gives a great flavor and keeps juices from bleeding out. Five minutes per side is usually sufficient.

Take the meat out of the pan and set aside. Add herbs and vegetables such as carrots, onions, and celery (parsnips, celery root, or hard squashes also work in the fall). After the vegetables are caramelized, add peppercorns and toast them (about two minutes) to bring out the flavor.

When the vegetables are caramelized, turn the heat down to medium, and add enough tomato paste to lightly coat all the vegetables. Add the meat back to the pan, and also coat with the tomato paste. When everything is coated lightly, I like to keep everything on the heat for a few more minutes, just to let the tomato cook a bit.

Just when you think that the tomato is ready to burn, turn off the heat and deglaze (Ed. note: You'll find tips on that technique just a few clicks down!) the pan with red wine, whiskey, or white wine, depending on the meat used. Whiskey will give a more robust flavor for roasts; I like to use the tannic red wines for a lamb shank; white wine gives you a more delicate flavor for veal and chicken.

After deglazing the pan, always remember to stir up the bottom of the pan to separate the “fond” (the caramelized bits) on the bottom. Turn the heat back on, and reduce the liquid by at least half.

After reducing the liquid, add enough stock (chicken, beef, veal, lamb, or pork) to cover the meat by at least two thirds.

Cover the pot, and place it in a preheated oven at 375 degrees. Cook slowly until desired tenderness is reached. This will take a few hours, depending on the cut and size of the piece of meat you are braising. Be sure to look up the specifics for your meat, as the time can vary greatly. For instance, lamb shanks take around one and a half hours; a five-pound roast may require four to five hours, while chicken legs and thighs will take as little as one hour.

Remove the meat and vegetables from the pan, and let rest for a minimum of ten minutes. You can reduce the cooking liquid to make sauce or more concentrated broth to go with the meat. Now, serve it up!
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Sauté

Chef Eric Acklowitz of Barley & Grain helped us hone our sautéing skills. "Sautéing is a method of cooking food over high heat in a small amount of fat or oil. Derived from the French meaning 'to jump' or 'bounce,' the technique is best used for thin cuts of meat, poultry, or fish utilizing a sauté pan or skillet." Here's how you do it right:

For our example, we will use a piece of fresh salmon fillet. You will need a small amount of canola oil, salt and pepper (kosher salt works best), a spatula to turn the fish, and a nine- or 10-inch sauté pan.

Use a six-ounce fillet purchased from your fishmonger (center cut is best, and skin on or off is your choice).

Place your sauté pan on the stove top, and turn on the burner to medium-high heat. When selecting a sauté pan, the thicker it is the better. This insures even heating throughout the pan bottom, reducing "hot spots" so your food will cook more evenly.

While your pan is heating, pat dry the fish using a paper towel, then season the fillet with salt and pepper on all sides.

Add about two to three tablespoons of canola oil to the hot pan — you should see it shimmer but not smoke. Add the fish fillet, placing the edge nearest to you first in the hot oil and laying it down into the oil away from you as quickly as possible without dropping the fish or splattering.

Cook the fillet on one side over the medium-high heat for about four to five minutes. Once the fish is evenly browned on the bottom, you need to flip it: Quickly slide the spatula underneath the fillet, slightly tilt the pan away from you so the oil gathers at the opposite edge, and flip the fish toward you in the pan area that has no oil. Lay down the pan again, and continue cooking on the second side for another four minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

Turn off the heat, slide your spatula underneath the fish, and remove from the pan, holding it above the pan for a few seconds to allow the excess oil to drip into the pan. Place on a warm plate, and let rest for two minutes before serving.

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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Poach

Poaching is one of the healthiest cooking methods out there, and it's also fairly simple. The process varies for different foods, but one of our favorites is the classic poached egg. However, this is another recipe that everyone has an opinion on. Some people favor the "simmer" method, and others the "swirl." Chef Jason Toji of PRESS St. Helena helped us figure out this tricky process with ease.

There's nothing better than a poached egg and some buttered toast! At the restaurant, we use a farm-fresh egg — the fresher the better.

Gently crack the egg into a small bowl and set aside. Bring a pot of slightly salted water up to just under a simmer (if you have a thermometer, aim for 180 to 185 degrees). Do not add vinegar (it coagulates the outer whites and makes for a chalky texture).

Take a spoon and swirl the water. Place the egg gently into the seasoned water, and let the egg poach for two to two and a half minutes. Extract the egg with a slotted spoon, and season with additional salt if needed. Enjoy with a toasted baguette and butter. Simple and deliciously creamy!


Feeling confident? Try getting a little fancier. Phil Lewis of Fat Radish takes us up a level with a classic poached halibut:

A typical piece of halibut that is poached is five to six ounces by weight, around one to one and a half inches thick from top to bottom, and maybe three-by-three inches or so across. Halibut is a lean fish, meaning if the poaching liquid is too hot, all the moisture inside of the fish will be pulled out, and it will become dry. However, if it's not hot enough, it will never cook.

Because of the relatively short cooking time, poaching in a flavorful, seasoned liquid is recommended. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper.

Add enough poaching liquid to a small sauce pot so that the liquid will cover the fish by about a half-inch. Put the pot on the flame, and bring the temperature up to the point where it is uncomfortable to have your pinky finger in the liquid. Turn the flame down to just barely on, and drop in the seasoned fish.

After about four minutes, flip the fish gently, and turn the heat up slightly. The fish is ready when a cake tester can be inserted into the fish, going into the grain, and meets no resistance.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Marinate

Marinating is the simplest way to add flavor to your meat or vegetables. Basically, you toss whatever flavors you want (oils, spices, juices, sauces) on the food and leave it in the fridge to absorb for a few hours or even overnight. But there are a few rules Paul Gerard reminds us to keep in mind:

Never use acid or salt. No citrus, vinegar, or salt of ANY kind. That’s called a "hot" marinade and will cook the flesh. If you want a citrus flavor, use the zest of the fruit, after blanching it first. Other than that, just remember to use lots of herbs, oil, any spices you like. Experiment! 
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Deglaze

Deglazing happens so fast, you'd barely recognize it as a step. But, trust, there is technique here, and mastering it will take the flavor of your dish to the next level. Don't leave all that good stuff stuck in the pan! Chef Nicholas Wilber of The East Pole breaks it down to three simple moves.

Remove the meat, poultry, or fish from the pan, and immediately add liquid — water, stock, wine, etc. Use a liquid appropriate to the dish.

Raise the heat to high, bringing the liquid to a boil while you stir and scrape the browned bits from the bottom of pan until they dissolve into the sauce.

Keep boiling and stirring until the sauce is reduced by half the volume.
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Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara.
How To Frost A Cake

Ever wonder how bakeries create those smooth, silky frosted layers, while your cakes turn out looking like the surface of the moon? Sigrid Benedetti schools us on how to do it right next time.

Transfer the bottom layer to a cake plate. Tuck two-inch strips of wax paper underneath the edges of the cake to cover the edges of the plate, protecting it from drips. If you have a turntable, place the cake plate on it — not essential but helpful. Spread the cake layer with a one-third-inch layer of frosting, and then place the second layer on top and repeat. Keep going for as many layers as you have.

After that, I like to pile a lot of frosting on the top of the cake, and — using the back of a long, offset metal spatula — smooth the frosting from the center of the cake out. Push portions of it over the edge, tipping the spatula to push the frosting down and against the sides of the cake. If you don’t have enough to get to the bottom all the way around, scoop up a little extra on the back of the spatula to fill in the gaps.

Finally, use the spatula to smooth out the top, pushing the frosting all the way out to create a nice flat top and sharp corners. When you’re finished remove the strips from under the cake. You should have a nice, clean cake plate that's ready for serving!
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