By Gary Maclean


Seasoning: taste, taste and taste again

Seasoning is vital in cooking. It’s the difference between creating an average plate of food and a brilliant one. I think it’s pure habit for a good chef to taste; it happens instinctively. It’s a bit like pressing the clutch when changing gear – you do it without thinking. You don’t want the people you are cooking for to be the first to taste your food.

Remember, too, that you don’t always season with salt and pepper; sugar, vinegar and lemon – to name but a few – are things you can use to enhance and balance the food you are cooking.


Essential Knife Skills

We have all seen the TV chefs showing off and chopping things really fast. In reality, it’s more important to cut and chop properly rather than quickly. Good technique takes time and lots of practice. You must learn good technique first, and the speed will come naturally with practice.

The first thing you will need is the correct knife for the job. It’s important to feel comfortable with the knife you have in your hands.

It also needs to be the correct size; there’s no point in dicing a kilo of carrots with a 2 inch paring knife when a 10 inch cook’s knife will do the job much more quickly, safely and easily. The technique a professional chef uses when cutting food is sometimes difficult for beginners to understand. If the person is right handed, then the left hand is used to guide and control the knife. They will do this by making sure the side of the blade is in constant contact with the fingers of the left hand. This is done by tucking in the fingers and thumb; that then exposes the first knuckle, and the first knuckle is then in constant contact with the knife. This makes using a knife much safer and will reduce your chances of cutting yourself.

The other important technique you need to learn is not to chop, but to slice. You will always find that if the angle of the blade is correct then the food cuts much more easily.

So, you should never try and drive the knife into the food; instead, slice through using a pulling back and down motion, as well as a pushing forward and down motion.

Different foods will require a slightly different technique – but never chop! Always slice. Always secure your chopping board to make sure it won’t slip.

To be blunt the other main reason people cut themselves is because they are using a blunt knife. If your knife is blunt then any cut you may get from it will be much worse than if the knife is sharp. I know that sounds strange – it feels counter-intuitive that a blunt knife will cut you worse than a sharp knife – but this is because when you work with a blunt knife you have to use much more pressure. So, keep your knives sharp.


Food Prep

Understanding cookery processes

What is a cookery process? It is a technical term for how your hob, oven and grill – and any other bit of kit you might have in the kitchen – apply heat to food. In this section I am going to explain the main ways we apply heat to food and what happens to the food during this process.

At home you use an array of cookery methods to make food more palatable and digestible, to help in the development of the flavor and to make it safe to eat. Understanding the principles of each cookery process will help in your cooking.

Two of these methods are:
• Moist heat, which is the use of liquids in the cooking, and
• Dry heat, which is cooking without liquids.


Boiling and simmering

These are simple cookery methods, but I feel they are often misunderstood. The temperature should always be 212°F for boiling and simmering is just slightly cooler at 185°F to 205°F.

Some foods need to be added to cold water and brought up to the boil, and others should go straight into rapidly boiling water. Boiling works very well with cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, root vegetables and greens.


Braising and stewing

Braising and stewing are long slow methods of cookery, which require liquid and a tight-fitting lid.

Stewing can be done both on the hob and in the oven. I feel it’s much better to stew in the oven as you have full control of temperature and don’t need to keep checking on the food like you do when it is on the hob. The best temperature for stewing is about 280°F. You can turn the temperature up if you are pushed for time, but don’t go past 320°F.

If you are stewing on the hob, the temperature of the liquid in the pot should be about 175°F and shouldn’t boil. The key thing to remember is that you are trying to keep the contents from boiling; boiling will lose you liquid, so the content will thicken up and could easily burn.

Another way of stewing on the hob is to use a pressure cooker. I love working with them. I think the flavor is much better than using a regular pan and, as it is 70% quicker, it’ll save you money on your energy bills. The secret of the pressure cooker is to get it up to pressure as quick as you can and then turn the heat down as low as it will go while still maintaining pressure.

Foods suitable for stewing are chicken legs and thighs, and those diced tougher cuts of meat – the slowness of the cooking process breaks down the tough fibers, making them moist and tender.

Braising is slightly different in that it is always done in the oven. It’s almost a cross between roasting and stewing. The food is partially covered in liquid and the pot is sealed with a tight-fitting lid; the liquid keeps the exposed food from drying out and the lid traps in the steam.



Steaming is a great method of cookery – it’s very healthy – but one that’s underused in most homes.

You can steam by:

  • Direct contact – that is, the steam comes into contact with the food, or
  • Indirectly in a covered bowl.

The temperature of steam is 212°F, the same as boiling, but it has much more energy and tends to cook things quickly and precisely. It can also be used as a long and slow method for tougher cuts of meat.

It’s perfect for cooking vegetables and fish as you retain much more of the flavor and nutritional value of the food than in boiling, because you are not losing anything in the cooking liquor.

Another advantage is that it’s a moist heat and there is much less risk of the food drying out.


Deep Fat Frying

This method of cookery is a very fast and dry method of cookery. The temperature can be anything from 260°F for blanching – i.e. cooking fries from raw in a lower temperature to soften to a much higher 350°F for crispy golden-brown foods.

Unlike steaming, this method is widely used and is the unhealthiest way to cook.

The theory of what happens to the food in hot oil is that the oil instantly makes a seal around the outside the food. The food is normally coated in something like flour, batter or breadcrumbs, which creates a shell around the food. The food

then steams on the inside. There are some foods that need to be deep-fried such as battered fish – but anything that has a crumb coating can be brushed in a little oil and oven baked to give you a similar result.


Shallow frying

This is another very fast method of cookery. Tender prime cuts such as steak or chicken are particularly suitable for shallow frying, as is fish. This is especially true of filleted portions – with skin-on fillets you can create that super crisp skin that everyone loves. And loads of vegetables taste fabulous when shallow fried – onions, peppers and mushrooms, blanched and refreshed green vegetables all love to be shallow fried. Remember, too, that stir-frying falls under the banner of shallow frying.

Watch out for the following when shallow frying:

  1. Always make sure the pan is very hot before adding the food. If the oil is not hot enough the food will stick and absorb the oil.
  2. Use a neutral oil such as vegetable, rapeseed or peanut oil. Personally, I never shallow fry in quality oil such as olive oil.
  3. Often you will see TV chefs shallow frying with butter. This is tricky to get right; butter can’t be taken to the same high temperatures as oil and can burn very easily. I tend to do most of the cooking in the hot oil and once I have created the color and crispness of the food I turn the heat down and add the butter.


Blanching and Refreshing

Blanching and refreshing allows you to pre-cook vegetables up to a day ahead of time.

Blanch: This word has several different meanings, depending on who’s using it and why, so it almost always needs some qualification or explanation. Technically, it means to ‘change’ or ‘set’ a green vegetable’s color from flat to vivid green while keeping it, in effect, raw. Some people use blanch to mean ‘parboil’: to cook a vegetable halfway, then shock it so it can be finished later. For example, chips are often blanched in low temperature oil so that they can be finished quickly (and crisply) in hot oil later. Many cooks use the term to mean plunging a vegetable into heavily salted water that’s at a rolling boil, fully cooking that vegetable, then removing it to an ice water bath.

Shock/Refresh:  To shock means to plunge food into ice water in order to halt the cooking. Green vegetables, such as green beans and broccoli, are commonly boiled in salted water and immediately shocked. This method is useful if you want to prep food in advance of a meal.

How to blanch and refresh vegetables:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil, add the prepared vegetables and cook for a few minutes. The cooking time will depend on the type and size of vegetable being blanched.

You’re looking for the vegetable to have a slight bite. Remove with a slotted spoon and plunge immediately into ice water. This stops the cooking and will retain both the nutrients and color.

Blanching and refreshing guidelines

  • Cut, trim and peel the vegetables into uniform shapes to promote more even cooking – and nicer presentation!
  • Cook vegetables for as short a time as possible to preserve texture.
  • Use a large amount of water in comparison to the amount of vegetables, to allow the water to keep boiling.
  • After refreshing, drain the vegetables and cover with damp paper towels. Refrigerate until required.
  • Reheat them by quickly sautéing in butter, steaming, grilling and dropping back into boiling water for a few seconds, or by reheating them in the microwave for a minute, covered with cling film and a knob of butter.
  • If vegetables are blanched and refreshed properly, they should stay green – even if you like your green vegetables softer.



If there is one thing that will transform the flavor in your food, it’s adding color to it by browning. I see home cooks automatically turn down the heat as soon as they get a little heat and sizzle in the pan. The reality is that you achieve a great deal of flavor from browning meat. The reaction of coloring meats, breads and all foods that are not primarily sugar-based is called the Maillard reaction. This reaction happens when heat is applied to these foods above 245°F. The bottom line is brown your meat.

Here’s how to brown:

  1. Test the pan with a little of the food before committing the whole lot. You will know it’s hot enough when you get a sizzle coming from the pan. If the sizzle is very noisy and uncomfortable, turn it down; if there is no sizzle you have no heat, so turn it up and wait.
  2. Don’t put too much food in the pan at the same time. Only put in enough food to cover the base of the pan or pot.
  3. Place the food carefully in the pan and once it’s in, whatever you do, don’t shoogle, shake or stir: this will stop the browning and the likelihood is that the food will be stuck anyway.
  4. If you think the food has browned enough, try moving one piece; if it freely comes away from the bottom of the pan it is ready to be turned.

Once all the food has been turned, remove it from the pan.

  1. If you need to, reheat the pan and brown the remainder of the food.



Baking is a dry method of cookery. I think it’s a brilliant way to cook. The oven is turned to a fixed temperature that ranges from 300°F to 450°F. If you follow the recipe, baking is predictable and consistent; and even better, baking fills the whole house with amazing aromas.

Know your ovens

These days most people have fan-assisted ovens. The purpose of the fan is to create an even heat throughout, which means you can use the whole oven. Without a fan, the oven struggles when more than one shelf is used at the same time – if you don’t have a fan and are putting more than one tray in then you’ll need to up the temperature and adjust the time a little.

Even so, remember that all ovens are slightly different. I recently moved house – where of course I had to work with a new oven – and for about three days I burned everything before I realized what was going on. So if you find that anything oven-baked is cooking faster or slower than I state in the recipe, it will probably do the same for every recipe – the difference is in the ovens we are using.



Roasting is very popular offshoot of baking: same oven and temperature, but different rules. For lots of us, there is nothing better than a well roasted chicken or joint of beef sizzling away in the oven from which all the cooking juices can be made into the tastiest gravy or sauce.

A temperature probe is an essential bit of kit when roasting; it ensures you are cooking the food to the correct temperature so that it’s is safe to eat and it also gives you confidence to cook the food to the correct temperature.

The first rule of roasting is to prepare the food properly for the oven. With meat, this is usually done by tying or trussing. The purpose of this is to ensure the food is compact and there are no straggly bits like legs poking out. For example, with a chicken once the legs have been tied or bound with elastic bands they are tight against the narrow part of the breast. This helps the bird cook evenly because the legs protect the narrow end of the breast meat and vice versa. Next you will need to season the meat; if it’s a whole animal then season and stuff the cavity with some fresh thyme, garlic and half a lemon.

Make sure you don’t cook the meat directly on the tray. Instead, use a metal rack or a bed of root vegetables to keep the meat off the hot tray. The vegetables will taste amazing and will also help stop the meat juices from drying out.

Another important roasting rule is to turn the food. Gravity plays a significant role in creating dry food. If you turn the food regularly it will retain the moisture much better.

Last but not least, rest the meat once it comes out the oven. Resting gives the meat a chance to settle; it evens out the temperature and the inside color of the meat. If you cut in too early you are left with a big puddle of flavor all over the floor.



Poaching, a wet method of cookery, is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the cookery processes. It’s a gentle process that needs attention and an understanding of temperature, but if done correctly it can produce some amazing dishes.

The liquids you can use for poaching are endless: ranging from simple vinegary water for poached eggs to red wine for pears, from stock for fish to syrup for fruit.

The main rule of poaching is to never let these liquids boil. Before you start, make sure the pot, pan or tray is big enough for the food you want to cook and then skim the liquid as you go.

A few simple things will help with poaching: a slotted spoon to get the food out the liquid, and a cartouche. A cartouche is just a fancy name for a circle of greaseproof paper that is placed directly on top of the liquid: its job is to keep the food submerged and help keep the moisture in.


Grilling and Broiling

Grilling is a great method of cookery. It’s fast and healthier than shallow frying, mainly because the fat falls off as you cook. There are two types of grilling: one from above and the other from below.

Let’s look at grilling from above first. This method can be done with great results at the home – my only bugbear is it can make a real mess of your oven. To start, make sure the grill has been preheated; the time food takes to cook depends how thick it is and how far it is from the heat source. If the food is thick then lower the tray so it gets a softer heat, which gives it chance to cook through. Any liquid that’s on the tray will become extremely hot – so be extra careful when removing the tray.

Prime tender meats and fish work best when grilling.

Grilling from below means barbecue time! I am often found in the garden on the barbecue come rain, snow or shine. For one, it eliminates the mess and smoke alarms that are a hazard of grilling indoors, but more than that I love the whole experience of cooking on hot coals. It’s really sociable, relaxing and fun, in a way that the kitchen sometimes isn’t. Natural heat, great color and flavor – these are all so brilliant I could easily write a whole book about the joys of the barbecue.

Things to remember:

  1. Make sure the barbecue is hot before you start to cook. Get preheating for at least five minutes if it’s gas. If you are on coals you will need to wait until the flames have gone and you are left with glowing embers. Don’t be tempted to fling your best prime steak onto the orange flames.
  2. Marinades deliver exceptional results when barbecued – prepping in advance for the barbecue is always worth the extra effort.
  3. Your barbecue is very versatile – much more so than often thought. It can be used for long and slow cookery and the range of food you can cook is endless. Think about the temperatures on the grill, but be brave and experiment.


Batch Cooking

Once you have planned and ordered your food, the usual thing to do is fill the fridge and cook when you need to. But I believe times have changed. I love cooking, but the reality is I don’t want to come home from work every night and cook. You probably don’t either. The answer is to batch cook; it’s simpler than you think and saves you loads of time overall. I cook once a week at home and I love it. I get the music on and lose myself in the kitchen for a few hours. I admit this is much easier in the winter months as the food you want to eat at that time of year lends itself to being stored – curries, stews, pie fillings and soups. On the plus side, if the sun is out you are eating more salads and quick-cook dishes like stir-fries or grills.

Batch cooking drastically cuts your total time in the kitchen per week. You cut prep time because you are doubling up jobs – cutting onions, prepping vegetables, cooking things at the same time. I tend to try and get things off the stove as quickly as I can and finish in a low oven. Depending on your pot size and oven size, you can get a few things in the oven at once – you’ll soon find that this saves loads on energy costs.

Once your food is cooked it is vital you look after it properly. If you have made a soup, stew, curry or chili – fundamentally anything cooked must be chilled as quickly as possible. If it’s in a pot, pop the pot into an empty sink and top the sink up with cold water until the pot starts to float; you could also pop it in some ice and the food will cool very quickly. If the sink is full, another way to cool the food is to place the pot on top of a wooden spoon. Having the pot at an angle helps circulate the air under the pot and so it cools faster. If food is cooled quickly it will last longer.

Generously funded by The Russell & Josephine Kott Charitable Memorial Trust