We all know the stereotypes of students living off pot noodles, beans on toast and takeaways. Gourmet student fare usually involves boiled pasta, cans of tomato puree, tinned tuna and smatterings of whatever crushed herbs have been open for years at the back of the cupboard. The fact is that most students can’t cook – not necessarily because they don’t try, but they haven’t the foggiest idea where to start. Mum and Dad never taught them these skills because the Nintendo or ‘Neighbours’ were much too interesting. Defrosting beef burgers in the microwave didn’t seem all that difficult anyway.
The problem is that it’s been a few years since you were a student and you still can’t really cook. The spots, greasy long hair, dirty trainers and friendship bands have all gone and that means you are at a point in life where people think there must be something seriously wrong with you if you’re still eating ‘Microchips’ and beans and sausage. Especially if you’ve moved in with your partner and that’s a typical evening meal for you both.
Perhaps now you’d better start learning how to cook. As daunting as it seems, just try to remember that cliché about putting one foot in front of the other. You will stumble along the way, no doubt, but with time, this path will surely lead you into a world of culinary ecstasy, subtle flavours, infused aromas and other exotic, pretentious cooking terms. At least you’ll be able to enjoy eating again.
The first thing to do is to choose a cuisine that you really like. English, Italian, Cantonese, Thai – you’ll have a greater chance of success if you have a real desire to make it as scrumptious as it is when you imagine it. Now you need to make sure you can get any cuisine-specific utensils and ingredients to realistically be able to practice. If you can’t get your hands on saffron or garam masala, or on a wok or a food mixer (some great ones at http://www.mixerpicks.com,though), you’ll have to choose another cuisine.
Now it’s time to buy a book. Don’t be dissuaded from buying if it’s more expensive than you imagined. It’s important that the recipes have pictures and diagrams, are written I unpretentious language that the novice can follow and – most importantly – have clear and easy-to-follow instructions. Look for breakdowns of preparation times and instructions which flow (you don’t want to finish chopping the onions only then to be told to start defrosting the chicken).
When selecting a recipe, don’t be put off by any terms you don’t know. You can look them up on the internet, see pictures and read all the information you could ever want. Choose one of the simpler recipes and make a note of the ingredients you need. Try to buy as many of the ingredients as you can from specialist shops. Let’s say you are going to try to cook Yuggaejang. You may well be able to find all the ingredients you need in your local supermarket. However, if you buy them instead at a Korean food store, you have the chance to discuss your ideas with experts. This is where you can pick up insider tips that you can’t get from the recipe books.
Have a look at some videos of popular chefs on YouTube. Aside from picking up useful tricks, you will be able to see what special cooking techniques actually look like. It’s difficult to know how to blanch shrimps properly without first being shown how it’s done.
Once you’re ready to take the plunge, follow the instructions closely and try to enjoy the experience. Don’t let yourself get distracted by having glasses of wine and trying to keep up with what’s happening on Coronation Street whilst you’re cooking.
As you eat your meal, be honest with yourself about your level of success. Make a note of anything you would like to change about the flavour or texture of your food and look online or ask in the shop for advice on how to achieve them. The next time you cook that particular meal, it’s going to be that bit better than it was the first time. Before long you’ll have the method down to a tee and you’ll be wowing all your friends with your new found culinary prowess.