Whether you’re an expert cook or just learning how to navigate the kitchen, you need to know a few basic techniques. And, what better way to learn than from Anne Willan’s prestigious French cooking school — the same cooking school that trained talented chefs like Gale Gand, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Jonathan Waxman? Though you may not be able to attend the school, her timeless cookbook LaVarenne Pratique is now available as an ebook, making the most essential cooking techniques accessible to every cook.
La Varenne Pratique has four easy-to-use sections that provide practical tips on fundamental techniques in the kitchen each of which starts with a useful conversion chart detailing how to convert both solid and liquid ingredients between metric and imperial measures and how to convert oven temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit or vice versa.
• The first section covers the basics like herbs, spice, and seasonings, and making stocks, soups, and sauces. Learn how to chop fresh herbs, how to make fresh ricotta, and how to make vegetable stock. This section is also a great reference tool; it explains the uses for a number of different knives and kitchen tools.
• Part two moves on to meat. Aside from sharing delicious recipes for seafood, poultry, meat, and more, you’ll learn how to truss a chicken, how to clean a whole fish, and how to tenderize meat. There’s even a section that explains how to sharpen your knife.
• The third section will help you round out a meal with techniques for preparing vegetables, mushrooms, and a variety of grains. Learn how to properly store and clean mushrooms, how to correctly cook several varieties of rice, and how to make homemade ravioli.
• The last section has tips and recipes for baking everything from breads to cookies and cakes. You’ll learn about the different types of sugar and how to use them in baking, tips for working with chocolate, and how to work with a variety of fruits and nuts both familiar and exotic.
We’ve rounded up eleven techniques from this essential culinary reference book that we think every cook of every skill level should know.
How to Open Oysters
Pick over the oysters, discarding any seaweed. Rinse any mud from the shells, but do not scrub them or soak them in water. Then, take a short, pointed oyster knife in one hand, cover the other hand with a thick glove or cloth, and grip the shell in your palm. Keeping the oyster level with the knife, insert the point of the blade next to the hinge and twist to pry the shell open. Be sure to use a good quality oyster knife — one that has a sturdy blade that won't bend easily. Cut the muscle of the animal from the shell and discard the top shell. With the knife, loosen the muscle in the lower hollow shell. If shucking the meat, tip it, with the juice, into a bowl. If serving on the half shell, leave the oysters on the bottom shell and serve on ice.
Spatchocock a Bird
Cut off the wing pinions at the joint with a pair of poultry shears or with a knife. Then, hold the bird in your hand (or place it on a cutting board), breast down. Cut along each side of the backbone with poultry shears and remove it. Clean the inside of the bird by wiping it with paper towels. Trim the skin. Open the bird out and snip the wishbone in half or remove it. Set the bird, breast side up, with the legs turned in. Using the heel of your hand, push down sharply on the breast to break the breastbone, flattening the bird. Make a small cut in the skin between the leg and breastbone and tuck in the leg knuckles. Thread two skewers through the birds, to hold the wings and legs in a flat, splayed position.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.