Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Getting in Touch with Forgotten Kitchen Skills

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Getting in Touch with Forgotten Kitchen Skills

Article excerpt

Processed and convenience foods and shortcut cooking methods have become so entrenched in our culinary culture, it's easy to forget just how much we have forgotten about real cooking.

But cooking instructor Darina Allen knows all too well. More and more of her students arrive having never cooked so much as an egg, or needing lessons in remedial onion chopping. She remembers one student who thought she'd ruined a bowl of heavy cream because she'd whipped it too much. She thought the clumps and clots in the bowl meant it was bad.

"I said, 'Stop! Don't throw it out!'" says Allen, author of "Forgotten Skills of Cooking." "I said, 'You've made butter!' She was completely fascinated."

As cooking has been rendered optional the victim of rising restaurant culture, myriad take-out options and supermarket sections packed with pre-cut vegetables, shredded cheese and prepared foods Allen and others say cooks are increasingly losing touch with skills considered basic, or even essential, just a generation or two ago.

And that is changing the way people like Allen teach, as well as how recipes are developed and written.

"Nowadays, we have to be more specific 'Fold it in with a rubber spatula.' because people don't know what folding is versus stirring," says Julia Collin Davison, executive food editor for books at America's Test Kitchen. "Now we list in our recipes more often what utensils to use: Stir with a spoon. Use a chef's knife for this. Use a paring knife for this. Over the years we've altered our recipe style dramatically based on reader feedback."

America's Test Kitchen, known for its almost obsessive precision in recipe development, isn't the only one. During the last decade or so, most cookbook and magazine recipes have begun to reflect the change in reader knowledge. While recipe writers could once use a shorthand style that assumed a basic knowledge, they now need to be far more explicit.

"There was a time when you said 'sear' or 'cream butter and sugar,' and everyone knew what that means," says Sarah Copeland, food director at Real Simple magazine. "Now you say, 'Heat your skillet over medium-high heat, add oil, cook until golden brown.' ... You took what was a two-word process and made it a 30-word process."

But if you're ready to get back in the kitchen and reverse the culinary brain drain, we've assembled a list of essentials skills experts say every home cook should have.


Knife skills are step No. 1 in any and all cooking. Cutting your own vegetables, rather than buying them pre-cut, makes a dramatic difference in the texture, flavor and price of a dish, Collin Davison says. Plus, mastering basic cutting technique shrinks prep time and makes cooking easier and more enjoyable.

"If it takes you 15 minutes to cut up a single bell pepper, dinner's going to take you three hours," she says. …

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