Food: What are the basics for cooking?

Depends on what you are cooking. However, generally, these are key principles I observe:
  1. Use a pot just slighltly wider than your cooker. This prevents wastage of energy unnecessarily, whether electric or a gas cooker.
  2. Apply salt and other spices sparingly (that is small portions at a time). Test for adequacy and apply a little portion again if necessary.
  3. Learn to keep most food at a low boil as much as possible. Cooking food slowly (simmering) is always better and tastier than hastily boiled cooking.
  4. Keep your surroundings neat and tidy always- before and immediately after cooking.
  5. A well ventilated kitchen is always the best.
  6. Cover hairs and possibly wear a clean gloves and an apron when operating in the kitchen.
  7. Don't be afraid to experiment, with cookbooks and the likes. That way you learn faster about various dishes, cuisines and cooking methods.
I hope that among other tips, these help/make sense to you at least.

Mise en place (or "Meeze") is the first skill within cooking basics learned in culinary school and has to relate to your entire organizational ability when it comes time to get down and dirty. Mise en place translates to everything in place. Everything has it's place,and to organize yourself before you begin to start cooking requires the presence of mind to fully embrace the idea of Mise en Place. For home users, a proper mise en place means gathering and measuring out your ingredients,prepping and having them easily accessible before cooking. Once your mise is complete, you can begin cooking. You will find out that your experience between no mise and full mise en place is night and day. Mirepoix (meer-pwa) is an vital combination that every cook must know. It is the foundation of many sauces, stocks and flavorings. Mirepoix is a timeless classic that has a fresh,flavorful aroma. It is one of my favorite smells personally and I'm sure you'll learn to love it as much as I do. Some advanced recipes will only use a portion of mirepoix or use a variation of mirepoix, such as celery and carrot only. Or stocks that omit carrot entirely. The reasoning behind this is that this combination of ingredients has a certain coloring property to it. A "white mirepoix" consists of omitting the carrot and substituting leeks and mushrooms. Flavoring ingredients can include items such as white mushrooms,leeks, garlic, shallots, tomatoes, and celeriac. These have mild, foundational flavoring properties and should be experimented in different combinations to complete your dish. Not all vegetables are suitable for laying a foundation of flavor, however, and you should be cautious of what you throw into your dish.Some ingredients have overpowering flavors, such as fennel, turnip, peppers,and so on. Others will impart a bitter flavor, such as cabbage. Some will affect color - beets for example. Certain types of root vegetables contain large quantities of starches and can cloud your dish such as potatoes. A rich, flavorful base is paramount to a delicious tasting dish. Experiment with other variations of flavors, and use your newly acquired knowledge to make educated decisions!

(I just wrote this as an answer to another question -- What are the different ways we can cook food? -- but it really applies here, as well.)

The most important and useful single insight I ever got came from the CIA's @The Professional Chef.

Basically, it explained that all cooking is essentially the successive application of two different types of heat: "wet" heat, and "dry" heat. "Wet heat" encompasses boiling, braising, simmering, and anything else where heat is introduced into the food through moisture, while "dry heat" covers all the techniques where heat is applied directly, like sauteeing, searing, grilling, etc.

The most important point it made is that because the two types of heat have different effects, the ingredients in any well-cooked meal will almost certainly have been put through both types of heat before the dish is done, often in multiple stages. The easiest example is braised meats, like a pot roast -- you can just put the raw meat in a pot and braise it, but if you brown the meat first in a pan and then braise it, you end up with a much, much more flavorful dish. The same thing is true about sauteeing the vegetables before you make a sauce, browning the rice grains before you make a risotto, etc. Conversely, that's why asparagus and even brats are so much better if you steam them before you grill them.

Once you understand that basic fact, the difference between "average" and "really good" home cooks becomes very simple, and very clear. Most people who are just average cooks at home just apply one kind of heat to their cooking -- they throw everything in a pot, or on the grill, and it's done. Really good home cooks almost always put a little additional time and effort into using different types of heat as they cook a dish, and those layers of flavor add up to a much more delicious, flavorful meal.

The essence of cooking is that putting organic matter in a new chemical or energetic environment changes how it behaves, sometimes for the better. This can include increased tenderness and digestibility and changed flavors.

The basics of the skill of cooking, though, would take a whole book, not a Quora answer. Luckily, that book has been written: The Science of Good Cooking (Cook's Illustrated Cookbooks).

If you understand the fundamental basis for cooking techniques, you will be able to apply them intuitively.

The basic of cooking is to apply chemical changes to ingredients that are of a chemical (like kitchen salt) or biological nature (like grains, fruits, vegetables, meat).

These changes are done by using this (incomplete) list of methods like:

  • The mixing of ingredients
  • Temperature control, and the method how the temperature is applied (boiling, brazing, cooking in an oven, but also cooling and freezing)
  • Acidity control (Acids can tenderize ingredients by breaking complex molecules down at room temperature)
  • Salt control (like in brining: Dissolved salt in water can also tenderize ingredients)

Basic requirement-
  • Appetite for food.
  • Interest in flavors.

Basics for cooking-
  • Boiled food is healthier and less tasty and vice versa with fried food.
  • Rely on your nose. If something smells burnt or sour, it is burnt or sour.
  • Sim flame is safer than high flame (most of the times).
  • Classic styles are called so for a reason. When in doubt, stick to them.
  • Practice makes permanent. So make sure you never lose your innovative skills.

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