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The six cooking techniques every home chef should master

Founder of Home Cooking New York Jennifer Clair talks us through her debut cookbook "Six Basic Cooking Techniques," based on her culinary school's bestselling class.
One of the "Six Basic Cooking Techniques": learning to create a sauce using the pan drippings. Photo: Provided.

If you want to get better at cooking at home, but aren’t sure where to begin, a new cookbook can provide you with a starting point. “Six Basic Cooking Techniques: Culinary Essentials for the Home Cook,” now available nationwide, breaks down the most need-to-know skills to give you the confidence to prepare anything you need in the kitchen. 

The “culinary manual” is written by Jennifer Clair, the founder of Home Cooking New York, a culinary school based in Soho, Manhattan. The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) grad worked in food media for over a decade (as a food editor at Saveur Magazine and a cookbook editor at Martha Stewart) before founding HCNY in 2002. “Six Basic Cooking Techniques,” which marks her return to the written word, is an extension of Home Cooking New York’s most popular class of the same name. (The two and a half hour class is costs $100; for an extra $19.95, students can take home a copy of the cookbook.)  

Clair explains the six basic techniques and why they’re so essential for any beginning home chef. 

Knife skills

Whether you're chopping vegetables or carving meat, any home cook is lost without the proper technique for wielding a knife, possibly the most useful tool in the kitchen. In this section, Clair instructs readers on knife essentials, including “how to hold it, how to mince, how to dice, how to julienne, how to work with garlic, how to sharpen it,” Clair explains.  

Cooking meats

“How do you make a piece of meat that’s nice and brown and crusty and delicious, but not overcooked?” According to Clair, the approach is the same, no matter if you’re preparing chicken, pork, or steak. “A, brown it so you caramelize it on the outside and then B, cook it properly to temperature.” She’s a firm believer in using a thermometer, instead of cutting into meat to tell if it’s done. “It’s imprecise, you lose so much juice and you really can’t tell by the color,” she says.  

Making flavorful pan sauces

Now that you've learned how to properly prepare your meat, this section shows you how to create a sauce from the crusty drippings left behind in the pan. You'll learn how to create a reduction by adding liquid (broth, water, or wine) until it thickens, or make a gravy by creating a roux (a mixture of fat, from the pan drippings, and flour). 

Roasting, blanching vegetables and cooking leafy greens

The final three chapters of the book will teach you how to properly cook every vegetable in the supermarket. Clair takes readers through “blanching,” a quick-cooking method whereby you add vegetables to boiling salted water for just a few minutes, “roasting,” by applying hot and dry oven heat, and everything you need to know about how to sautee and properly season leafy greens, from kale to bok choy.

"Six Basic Cooking Techniques: Culinary Essentials for the Home Cook" is available on Amazon and in stores nationwide.