I came across this article about the ‘10 recipes everyone should know‘ today, and thought the concept was interesting. To be honest I feel a bit ‘meh’ about most of those recipes, most of which I feel perfectly happy to not know how to cook perfectly (potato gratin? Give me mash any day). But it is true that it’s easy to get caught up in the food blogs, the recipe books, the celebrity chefs and cooking shows, and feel like it’s all to much to actually tackle in your own kitchen. Focusing on a few key basics and then extending skills from there makes a lot more sense.
So anyway, here are my essential dishes that I think are useful to know how to make:
1. A great roast (plus roasted veggies)
Inspired by Heston (though too lazy to do everything properly) we usually roast meats for couple of hours at a low temperature, before cranking it up for a bit at the end for a roast that’s moist on the inside and nicely browned on the outside. The nice thing about roasts is that it’s 1) very little effort and 2) there’s usually heaps of leftovers to use for lunches or other meals through the week. If it’s a chicken then the carcass can also be saved to make chicken stock.
2. Basic stocks
This is one that I need to work on, but I think is a very useful skill. Making your own stock from bones and vegetables less expensive and much tastier than dried cubes of ‘flavoured’ stock. Especially essential for soups, where the flavour comes through a lot more.
3. Curry (from scratch)
It’s a bit daunting, but once you can make a great curry from scratch the same basic idea can be translated to curries of different cuisines, casseroles, tagines and pies. Getting the delicate balance of flavours just right is something that you can’t just follow a recipe for. Also these things are the best leftovers – the rule is that curry always tastes better the day after, as it’s all had time to mingle.
4. Veggie soup
Since we’re in winter, I cook a soup pretty much every week. It’s easy, cheap, healthy, warming, freezes well and makes great leftovers. It’s also the best use for all those random vegetables floating around in the crisper which have seen better days, and is easy enough to be creative with different combinations of ingredients once you get the general concept down.
Easy, cheap, fast, healthy and with endless possibilities. King oyster mushrooms are my favourite stir-fry ingredient at the moment, but usually I just rummage through the fridge and use whatever is there.
6. Eggs, multiple ways
I love eggs. Cheaper than meat, a good source of protein and other good stuff, and so so tasty. I’d suggest one dish, but I think that the more ways you can cook eggs the better. Fritatta, poached eggs, baked egg cups and boiled eggs with salad are my favourites.
7. Something easy and sweet
For those occasions where you need to bring something in to the office, or to an afternoon tea. Gingerbread, shortbread, scones and mini-muffins are my favourites. I find people are often just impressed that you baked something without a packaged mix, even if it’s something really simple!
8. Tomato-based sauce
Using fresh or tinned tomatoes and herbs. Basis of many pasta dishes, or switch up the herbs and spices and turn it into a chilli con carne or ratatouille. I think next summer I’m going to buy a box of tomatoes and make and freeze a ton of the stuff.
Or grilling in general really. I like steaks for a simple meal when good steak cuts are on special. Knowing how to grill a steak so that it’s cooked the way you like it (medium rare for me!) is definitely a useful skill. If you can do that, it’s not terribly different to be able to barbeque like a boss – a useful skill in Australia!
Obviously this list isn’t going to do it for everyone – it’s very much an omnivorous Aussie list of ‘essentials’, and some of these things are too time intensive for many people to cook on the average weekday. But if you’re looking for a bit of direction and these things don’t sound too bad, I think it’s a good place to start. If you can make these things, you’ll be able to eat quite well, quite affordably, and even impress people with your culinary skills!
What would be on your list of things everyone should know how to cook?
Photos all by me, from my archives. Man I take a lot of photos of food.