Even if you have no aspirations of becoming your generation’s Julia Child, knowing your way around the kitchen can make cooking easier, faster and more enjoyable. Learning a few key skills can mean the difference between a healthy home-cooked meal and yet another night of not-so-healthy take out. Libby Mills, RDN, a nutrition coach and chef, shares five techniques to try. With a little practice, you might be mistaken for Julia Child in the kitchen after all (just minus some of the butter).
Season a cast-iron skillet: A cast-iron skillet is the perfect tool for searing meats, fish and vegetables. But first, you have to know how to care for it. Heat up the skillet, add some canola oil and rub it all over the internal surface. Then put it in the oven at about 200 degrees for 15 minutes. After it cools, wipe out any excess oil. “The oil will get into the pores of the cast iron and create a nonstick surface,” Mills says. After each use, clean, but don’t scour it — and every so often re-season it with another coat of oil.
Recipe: Coffee-Rubbed Rib-Eye
Skim stock: Making your own meat, chicken or vegetable stock can be as simple as tossing some leftover bones in a pot with water and vegetables. But before you use it — to make soups, sauces, risottos and more — you will want to remove the fat. This is especially important for meat stock since that fat is largely the saturated kind. If you have the time, chill your stock in the fridge overnight. The fat will rise to the top and form a solid layer that you can scoop right off. But if you want to use it right away, Mills suggests this method: Transfer some stock from the pot into a taller, narrower vessel (like a measuring cup) and let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes. The fat will rise and you can skim it off with a turkey baster.
Recipe: Homemade Chicken Stock
Know your grater is great: Pull out your grater and use it to shred broccoli stems. The pieces will be as tender as carrots and you can toss them into a salad or add to soups or casseroles. And grating vegetables like turnips and radishes is a good, quick way to add some extra crunch and flavor to a salad.
Become a poacher: “This very healthy way of cooking adds little to no fat but lots of flavor,” Mills says. Simply put some water (or broth), a little wine and some herbs into a sauté pan, bring them to a simmer, drop in a piece of salmon or a chicken breast and let cook until done. “The moist heat makes the meat or fish come out almost buttery,” Mills says.
Try braising: Less expensive cuts of meat are often leaner and healthier, but they can also be tough. A simple trick for making them as mouthwatering as an expensive filet is to braise them. “This means cooking at a lower temperature for a longer time, with lots of moisture,” Mills says. First, you usually sear the meat in a skillet or Dutch oven, then add plenty of liquid (stock or water with wine) and let it cook slowly with the lid on over low heat.
Recipe: Beer-Braised Chicken
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.