What are the first dishes a serious cooking enthusiast should study?

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Lets assume I know nothing about cooking, because I really don't think I do.

If you had to point me toward 5 classic (European or anything) dishes that every professional chef studies at the beginning of their culinary education, what would they be, why, and what are some of the reasons those are dishes are studied first?

Not necessarily asking what your favorites are, more or less asking what a total beginner needs to focus on to develop a repertoire of skills.

Thanks!
 
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First come basic things like knife skills, learning how to prep, knowing how to keep a prep area clean etc. If you're cutting raw meat and then tossing a salad without washing your hands then it doesn't matter how good either of your dishes are because those who eat it will be facing bigger problems.

A few simple dishes are very important starting points.
Eggs - learn how to make a proper omelet and you're golden.
Stock - A good stock can enhance many many dishes.
Roast chicken - The simplest thing in the world and there are many ways to do it.

From then on just build technique with each dish you attempt. You'll want to accrue skills in sauteeing, roasting, poaching, braising, sweating, grilling and frying. Rome didn't get built in a day so start and keep learning. The good news is that you'll be eating food the rest of your life so there is plenty of time to learn and perfect.
 
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(French) omelet aux fines herbes
Pure technique, very tricky to execute perfectly, utterly unforgiving

Roast chicken
Something you can tinker with your whole life and never perfect

Apart from that, it's a matter of choosing dishes that demand the execution of certain techniques. For example, a beautiful whole stuffed fish requires you to prepare a whole fish but leave it intact. A poached salmon with mayonnaise requires making perfect mayonnaise. And so on.

If you really want to learn this way, you're in luck. Many years ago, Jacques Pépin tried to convince us to learn this way by writing a two-volume book called The Art of Cooking. It was a failure, commercially, because people don't want to learn to cook, but rather to have recipes. But what this book does is to construct a series of excellent recipes around an exhaustive overview of classic French technique, all of which he explains and demonstrates through color photos.

I have found the book invaluable. If you're serious about what you are asking, you will too.
 
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Hi JK,

Good ideas above!

I like to start someone with French Onion Soup. Primarily for the experience of learning to deal with Onions, besides you have to do something with your practice material! Since Onions are present in virtually every cuisine on the planet and I believe that a cook will clean and cut more onions than any other single product over your lifespan. What is the main ingredient in a Mirepoix? It's a good chance to make friends with your knife and get good at a very common task.

With the rise in popularity of Onion Marmalades, you can do some of those also.
  • Soy, Ginger, sesame oil for five spice pork roast w/ diagonal shred green onion
  • Bacon fat and any vinegar for burgers, sausages, or dogs
  • Lemon, Olive oil, and Garlic for grilled Lamb, or grilled Feta
  • Chipotle, Lime for fish Tacos, etc. etc.

Just get good at cleaning and cutting onions in different sizes. (Search "Knife cuts chart") Uniformity of cut is the goal! Practice and repetition...

Potatoes would be my next choice for common products to gain knife skills.

Good Luck and Have FUN!
 
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1.) Hamburgers. Learn how to make them tasty and how to get temps right.
2.) Soups. Learn how to make a decent soup. Both clear-type and creamy.
3.) Any meat. Either off a grill or pan. Learn when to flip and how to hit proper temps.
4.) Vegetables. Learn about the best ways to cook different vegetables. Learn soft from crisp.
5.) Fruit. Learn what can be used with a savory dish and how to make a good dessert.
* I'll be happy to explain what I mean if you like.

I don't at all believe anyone needs to learn how to make stock ... unless you live in a restaurant. They require lots of stuff, lots of work and take way too long. After you're finished you have way too much than you need for a long time. Stock/Broth off the shelf in a box is just fine. Don't buy any expensive knives. Get a good knife in the budget price range. Feel free to use an electric sharpener. Get yourself some < $5 bamboo utensils @ Target. You get a spoon, a slotted spoon and a slotted spatula. They'll last you longer than a year and they're cheap. Try EASY recipes ... not so much from fancy books ... but gold old Betty Crocker type. Don't be afraid of stuff in boxes. Hamburger-Helper type stuff can come out great. Asking questions is free. Don't blow your $$$ when you should have asked first.
 

phatch

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I think you should cook the kinds of things you're interested in eating.

Ask yourself why the recipe has you do the things you're doing. It's sort of a reverse cooking show. Chop the onions in a small dice why? So they fit in the final dish properly for texture maybe, or cooking speed.

Why that size and type of pan, why that heat? Why that much oil. Why wait til the butter stops foaming?

Read James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking.
 
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A perfect omelet, a perfect steak, a perfect roast chicken - all so simple and basic, but there is a reason others have mentioned these items. A roux based gravy comes to mind, as well as hollandaise and variants of egg sauces. Pommes dauphinoise (dolphin nose potatoes ) is a classic dish well worth learning, using several basic, fundamental techniques.

mjb.
 
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A perfect omelet, a perfect steak, a perfect roast chicken - all so simple and basic, but there is a reason others have mentioned these items. A roux based gravy comes to mind, as well as hollandaise and variants of egg sauces. Pommes dauphinoise (dolphin nose potatoes ) is a classic dish well worth learning, using several basic, fundamental techniques.

mjb.
I always thought dauphinoise was named that way after the Dauphin (French prince?)
 
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Joined Feb 24, 2015
Hi JK,

Good ideas above!

I like to start someone with French Onion Soup. Primarily for the experience of learning to deal with Onions, besides you have to do something with your practice material! Since Onions are present in virtually every cuisine on the planet and I believe that a cook will clean and cut more onions than any other single product over your lifespan. What is the main ingredient in a Mirepoix? It's a good chance to make friends with your knife and get good at a very common task.

With the rise in popularity of Onion Marmalades, you can do some of those also.
  • Soy, Ginger, sesame oil for five spice pork roast w/ diagonal shred green onion
  • Bacon fat and any vinegar for burgers, sausages, or dogs
  • Lemon, Olive oil, and Garlic for grilled Lamb, or grilled Feta
  • Chipotle, Lime for fish Tacos, etc. etc.

Just get good at cleaning and cutting onions in different sizes. (Search "Knife cuts chart") Uniformity of cut is the goal! Practice and repetition...

Potatoes would be my next choice for common products to gain knife skills.

Good Luck and Have FUN!

Ah yes - French Onion Soup
Agree 100% - one of the cheapest ingredients, actually, one of the cheapest dishes to really experiment on
And learning how to cut onions effectively and in a timely manner - absolutely one of the foundations of any cook in my book

One of my early chefs always joked with the new apprentices
"If you want to learn vegetable prep in your spare time, invite a bunch of your friends and prepare vegetable sticks with dip"

I'll pass this advice on...learning knife skills is essential - and there are many many ways to practice
 
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Everything you want to know is on Youtube these days. Avail yourself. Pierre Marco White, Gordon Ramsay, Jacques Pepin, Michel Roux, Raymond Blanc. Study these chefs and you will never go wrong. After that move on to Japan, or China and try your hand at that and a really good Greek cookbook.
 
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I agree with ICEMAN on the stocks except for Chicken stock. It's easy to cut the backs off of whole chickens. I put them in the freezer and make a stock after accumulating several. There's nothing like having good homemade chicken stock available for chicken soup in the winter. There are also a lot of good bases on the market for other stocks.....ChefBillyB
 
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I agree with you ChefBillyB ... home chx stk is some good stuff. I still think however that the work and time needed is more than any "home cook" needs or wants. On top of that ... I know how much room my home freezer has. How many "home cooks" have room for that amount of product? ... I'm just sayin'.
 
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Thank you all so much for the amazing replies! It's been so interesting looking over these as they're coming in.

Jacques Pépin tried to convince us to learn this way by writing a two-volume book called The Art of Cooking.

Read James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking.
By the way, both of these books should be on their way to my office. Ordered them last week but Labor Day (US holiday) traffic probably slowed them up a bit.

I was surprised a lot of you said omelet/scrambled egg, but ok! ;) While I'm waiting for those books to arrive (I suspect they would speak on this issue), are there any youtube videos someone could point me toward?

Regarding stocks...

There are also a lot of good bases on the market
But that takes away all the fun! lol

I still think however that the work and time needed is more than any "home cook" needs or wants.
Oh, I'll put in the work. I have a full kitchen in my office, and plenty to do while its sitting there simmering :) I figured I could drop by a butcher and pick up chicken carcasses and beef bones on my way in to work. I can do my prep work when I first get there and then once its in the pot, start on my morning routine. I have no objection to using fresh herbs and spices. In three days I'm super excited about I'm having a proper raised garden bed installed on the property at work (I don't think I can pull it off at my home unfortunately) in which I intend to grow herbs and spices. (And tons and tons of shallots of course!). So if I need something I'll walk out back and cut it off a shrub. If I need something I don't have I can make a phone call and have a local farm deliver it to me. Then at the end of the day I figured I could pack those stocks in an oversized thermostat and take them home to cook for the family with :) I feel it would be an egregious waste of opportunity to not make the most of the lovely kitchen at work.

Ummm....could someone point me toward a couple youtube videos for making stocks? I used this one...not sure if its that good. By the way...I don't intend on using perfectly edible pieces of chicken...I usually hit the butchers up for scraps.

 
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IMHO your approach should be more about studying techniques than specific dishes. As a rookie one may think, "ok I just follow these instructions". And then you do and perhaps enjoy the results. So you make it again, repeat it seemingly exactly, but this time it sucks. And you think, "WTF? I did it the same way!"

Learning a technique is the first step but the bigger challenge is producing the same results consistently. Because things aren't always 100% apples-to-apples and practice will teach you how to judge when things are "ready" instead of merely following rote.

Gain competency on the techniques and then focus on mastering specific recipes. Once you have the techniques down then the possibilities are wide open.

Again, only IMHO.
 
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When I look at making a breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I think about what is the star of the dish. The one ingredient that will make the dish either a success or failure.

For me it will always be one of 4 things. A protein, vegetable, grain, or sauce.

If I were to rank my "stars of the dish" for my lifestyle it would be protein, vegetable, sauce, then grain.

Right now I am concentrating on proteins.

Anyways, I would concentrate on perfecting what your culinary lifestyle dictates.
 
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Joined Apr 3, 2008
IMHO your approach should be more about studying techniques than specific dishes. As a rookie one may think, "ok I just follow these instructions". And then you do and perhaps enjoy the results. So you make it again, repeat it seemingly exactly, but this time it sucks. And you think, "WTF? I did it the same way!"

Learning a technique is the first step but the bigger challenge is producing the same results consistently. Because things aren't always 100% apples-to-apples and practice will teach you how to judge when things are "ready" instead of merely following rote.

Gain competency on the techniques and then focus on mastering specific recipes. Once you have the techniques down then the possibilities are wide open.

Again, only IMHO.

But a homecook needs to eat. We don’t have the luxury of sitting down with a sackful if onions and slicing all of them just for the sake of learning the technique. We learn one dish at a time whilst feeding our families. That’s why dishes that will help us get there are important.
 
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Hi again JK,

Lots of good advice from the group!

I've spent 38 years trying to learn everything about cooking and food (full time, for money!) and I don't even know half... Consider narrowing your focus to what you want to learn more about. If you were to share what your favorite protein is, we could probably suggest dishes that teach a method/skill that reaches beyond that one dish/recipe.

Here is a lesson, for a beginner, that reaches beyond one dish/recipe!
Ever make "American style" Chili? Ever use Chili Powder? Read the label for Chili Powder. (ground chilis, Cumin, oregano, Garlic powder, Onion Powder) You can safely add one or more of those ingredients, making it different from those that only follow a recipe, in accordance with your tastes. Use this same "technique" for the following seasoning blends: Jerk, Harissa, Za' atar, Cajun, Italian, Indian Curry, Thai Curry, Blackening, Taco, Poultry, Fajita, Chinese five spice, Herbes de provence, Baharat, Pumpkin Pie spice, etc. Also applies to anything from a jar or can of sauce.

Are you cooking for one? Family of five? Do you host dinner parties a couple times a month?

P.S. Consider chives for your herb bed as they come back every year, tough to kill and I love using the blossoms when they happen.
 
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Joined Apr 11, 2018
But a homecook needs to eat. We don’t have the luxury of sitting down with a sackful if onions and slicing all of them just for the sake of learning the technique. We learn one dish at a time whilst feeding our families. That’s why dishes that will help us get there are important.

Right, I didn't mean sit down and chop a bag of onions. What I meant was, for example, instead of focusing on mastering one particular dish that happens to use sautéing, instead focus on mastering sautéing by doing a bunch of different dishes that use that technique.

Experienced cooks sometimes forget how difficult the basics can be for rookies lacking proper training.
 
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