Your chopping skills are on point. You can fillet a fish like a pro. You can even tell the doneness of a steak by feel. But there’s always another technique to master. Here, star chefs share the skills that they think every home cook should know.

By F&W Editors
Updated May 23, 2017
Photo © Antonis Achilleos

Your chopping skills are on point. You can fillet a fish like a pro. You can even tell the doneness of a steak by feel. But there’s always another technique to master. Here, star chefs share the skills that they think every home cook should know.

How to make mayonnaise. “If you come to my kitchen to do a stage, there are three things you have to do: You have to brunoise carrot, celery and onion; you have to chop chives; and you have to make mayo,” says chef Tory Miller of L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin. “I love mayo and think everyone should know how to make it. My favorite method is with the robot coup, but I also make a lot with an immersion blender.”

How to make an omelet. “I think it’s a skill that requires a lot of restraint and delicacy,” says Aimee Olexy of Philadelphia’s Talula’s Garden. “The equipment needed is simple, but things happen very quickly when you’re making an omelet. There’s a level of patience required. A good one shows that you understand protein and how to choose great ingredients.”

How to braise a piece of meat. “Once you learn how to do it right, it’s the easiest way to blow away your party guests,” says Colorado chef Kelly Liken. "You’ve got to get that good browning on the meat and get a nice fond in the bottom of the pan. Then you brown your aromatics slowly enough to build flavor. The last key is to use a rich stock and a best-quality wine or beer to deglaze.”

How to cook a green vegetable. “For a long time, people—especially old-fashioned Southern cooks—cooked green vegetables until they were annihilated,” says Top Chef alum Kevin Gillespie. “By the same token, in the last 20 or 30 years, there was a strong California drive to blanch something for half a minute and call it cooked. Neither of those is correct. You cook things to tenderize them. We think that only applies to meat. The key with vegetables is to achieve that tenderness while retaining that fresh green color.”

How to sear. “Everybody watches the cooking shows on TV with the pots and pans flying and chefs flipping things. But for the most part, you want to put the food in there and leave it alone,” says chef Aaron Barnett of St. Jack in Portland, Oregon. “Let it cook! Getting a good, crunchy sear on a piece of steak or fish? Come on, that’s delicious. Just don’t burn it or undercook it.”

How to steam. “It’s one of the best cooking methods,” says Andy Ricker of the Pok Pok empire. “You can cook a lot of stuff that way: vegetables, meat, fish and eggs. We don’t do a lot of steaming in the US, either at home or professionally. To some people, the word ‘steamed’ means boiled vegetables. In Southeast Asia, it’s a very important technique. If you get a beautiful whole snapper, branzino or trout and you fry it, then it will taste delicious, but you’ll be tasting the oil. If you steam it, it’s just the delicious taste of the fish.”

How to salt. “So many people don’t know,” says chef Jamie Bissonnette of Toro. “First, make sure your hands are dry so the salt doesn’t clump. Then, if you’re seasoning a piece of something like meat, put it on a wide dish to catch the excess. (I always say cooks should get nothing on the floor except for salt. Some salt should fall on the floor. When a cook is making salads and the floor is clean, I tell them they’re doing a good job, but they’re not seasoning right.) Take a healthy pinch of salt, and hold your hand about a foot above whatever you’re seasoning. Move your hand back and forth as you rub your thumb against your finger. Sprinkle high and vigorously. It should look like it’s falling evenly, like snow. Even when you’re seasoning something where you can stir in the salt, like a meatloaf or mac and cheese, you want to sprinkle it as evenly as possible. If you drop it all in one spot and stir, not only do you risk over-mixing, but someone will inevitably get that one over-seasoned bite. If you season high and vigorously, there’s less chance of an inconsistently seasoned dish.”

How to write “happy birthday” in chocolate on a plate. “There’s hardly anything you can do that people appreciate more,” says chef Spike Gjerde of Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen. “I would say Woodberry is a birthday destination for one reason: Because you get a nice dessert if it’s your birthday (or any occasion), but if it’s your birthday, you get your name written on it in chocolate.”

How to cream butter and sugar. “We have a lot of interns at our restaurants,” says pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac. “For the first month and a half with us, all they make is buttercream frosting and cookie doughs. They cream butter and sugar all day. Literally: I’ll have them make six 22-quart containers in one day. I’ll tell them, ‘I swear to God, I know it seems like I’m trying to torture you, but repetition is how you’ll learn.’ Particularly when you’re making large restaurant batches, it’s not as easy to judge. But if it’s under-creamed, it will spread too much; if it’s over-creamed, it won’t spread properly. When all of their cookies are perfect, and their buttercreams are beautiful, I start moving them on to harder stuff.”

How to make pasta dough. “You only need flour and eggs, and you can go in so many different directions, whether it’s for a filled pasta, a ribbon or another shape, baked, with butter or another sauce, from this region or that,” says Quince chef Michael Tusk. “It’s an everyday staple, but there’s the alphabet of pasta dishes to learn. It’s very therapeutic, too: making the well, putting the eggs in, the kneading, it’s just very satisfying from start to finish.”