5 Basic Cooking Techniques

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If toast is your only specialty, you might want to brush up on these basic cooking techniques. We can't promise you'll have your own Food Network show anytime soon, but you won't set off the fire alarm quite as often.

Searing uses very high heat to quickly brown the exterior of a piece of meat, which forms an outer crust and seals in its juices. To sear on a stovetop: Set a heavy-bottomed skillet (think: Le Creuset's enameled cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil with a high smoke point, such as canola or olive, and heat until it shimmers and just barely smokes. Add the meat to the hot skillet and cook until the surface forms a brown, caramelized crust. Flip the meat when it has changed colors a quarter of the way up the side. Repeat sear on the reverse side.

Sauteing cooks food in a small amount of oil. To saute: Over medium heat, set a skillet or saute pan that's large enough to fit all of the food in one layer. Add just enough canola or olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, and heat until faintly smoking. Add the food to be cooked and stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Brining plumps the cell structure of meat so that it stays moist and tender when cooked. To brine: Dissolve 3/4 cup of salt and 3/4 cup of sugar in one gallon of cold water for whole poultry or large roasts, or 1/4 cup of salt and 1/4 cup sugar in eight cups of water for smaller pieces (up to four chicken breasts). Make enough brine to completely submerge the meat in the liquid; place the container in the refrigerator. Allow the smaller pieces, like chicken breasts, to soak in the solution for up to one hour. Whole chicken or turkey can be brined 4 to 12 hours or longer, depending on the weight.

Roasting oven-cooks food, uncovered, at a high temperature to produce a browned exterior and moist interior in meats. This process is usually reserved for large, tender cuts of meat and whole poultry. To roast: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Season the meat and place it on a roasting rack or on top of a bed of chopped root vegetables, like carrots or potatoes.

Making a mirepoix (aka the holy trinity of onion, celery, and carrot) is a simple veggie medley that is the cornerstone of countless soups, stews, and sauces. Make a small dice of equal parts carrots, onion, and celery and saute in oil, butter, or bacon fat.

Nestpert: Paul Delle Rose, Culinary Institute of America skills professor