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Learn to Cook

Do yourself a favor. Learn to cook. Not only is it easy, rewarding, fun, intellectually stimulating, attractive, yadda yadda, it’s a pretty essential part of one’s existence. Every human needs to consume food to survive. It might be good to know how to make food.

You don’t have to cook often, although practice will make you better.

Yes, yes, I know you’re too busy creating a company/raising a child/writing a novel to cook. But cooking doesn’t always mean complex meals made from scratch. Cooking can start with adding a boiled egg to your package ramen. It can be saving your oversalted takeout with a little acid. It can be making a grilled cheese. Don’t overthink it.

Watch cooking videos. I started cooking a few years ago, but I watched cooking videos for years and years before that. When I started cooking, I was surprised to realize that I had all of this knowledge. Cooking videos are often fun and easy watches. You can do it while lazing around after work. There’s whole bunch like Munchies, Serious Eats, Bon Appetit, etc.

Buy Salt Fat Acid Heat. I’ve tried to teach cooking to people, only to realize that they lack any intuition about flavor. They don’t understand how flavors combine and how to adjust them. You can and should follow recipes, but more important than that, you should know why recipes work. This book will teach you that and much more. Not to mention Samin Nosrat is a delightful writer.

Another wonderful book, especially for the more nerdy, is The Food Lab.

Use more salt in your cooking. No, even more than that. Restaurant food contains a shocking amount of salt and fat. You can stand to season your food more. If you don’t like your cooking, this is probably why.

Learn to cook vegetables. You may discover that many vegetables you previously disliked, when cooked properly, are absolutely delicious. Season them properly and use enough fat. Vegetables don’t have natural fat, so they won’t taste good without boosters like olive oil or butter. It’s okay. A few tablespoons of butter with some collard greens is still mostly collard greens.

Stir frying vegetables is very easy and very rewarding. Get a leafy green vegetable like spinach, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, kale, etc. If you can find an Asian market, yu choy, mustard greens, napa cabbage are all great options. Cut up some garlic. If you want, ginger and hot peppers also go well. Cut up the greens. Heat oil in a pan until oil starts to have little ripples (this is called shimmering in recipe parlance), throw the garlic in (and ginger/hot peppers if you have them), let it sizzle for a bit, then add the greens. Stir, making sure to move the greens on the bottom to the top. Salt generously.

If the greens are too tough, add a few teaspoons of water and cover. Let them steam for a few minutes.

Buy seasonal, local vegetables from high quality grocery stores1. Not only do seasonal, local vegetables taste better, they’re generally cheaper since they’re in abundance and don’t have to flown from elsewhere. Go to farmers markets. Yes, they’re more expensive. They’re still cheaper than a restaurant. Never buy out of season tomatoes2.

Learn to make salads. Salads are one of the most maligned dishes. They can be stunning if you buy good produce and make a good vinaigrette. Good produce should have its own flavor, whether that’s the bitter pop of arugula, the sweetness of butter lettuce, the sting of a radish. A good vinaigrette is light, sharp and not complicated. You may find yourself eating a large bowl of salad by yourself. Then wondering why most salads suck.

Your food will only be as good as your ingredients. You can buy the fanciest sous vide machine, use the best dry brined reverse sear blowtorch method, but your Costco chicken breast will still taste like Costco chicken breast.

Are you a professional athlete? Are you attempting to be a bodybuilder? Are you 6'8"? If not, skip the bulk packages of frozen chicken breast. Chicken thighs are delicious too by the way. Roasting whole chickens is also a great method.

Learn to use spices. Learn to find a balance between bland nothing and overwhelming everything. You can order spices online for significantly cheaper or look for a local spice shop. Often ethnic stores stock spices on the cheap.

If you have family dishes that you like, ask for recipes. Better yet, cook them with your relative. It’s a good experience.

Find good recipes and follow them. You can modify once you understand the fundamentals. Avoid using Google. You’ll just get the food blog that did the most SEO. I like NYTimes, Serious Eats and Bon Appetit. AllRecipes is not recommended as the recipe quality is not vetted at all.

Learn to make and use condiments. Condiments are a great way to add flavor to food, whether that’s your own dishes or delivery. I like homemade mayo, chili crisp and doubanjiang (buy this one). Olive oil makes a delicious condiment on its own. Use some chili crisp when making your mayo to get the best chili mayo ever.

Avoid bro cooking. Bro cooking is defined by overuse of bacon, excess alcohol, meat meat meat, and an obsession with protein. You don’t need to assert your masculinity in your cooking. Don’t fall into the trap that cooking is feminine. It’s not. Even if it was, there’s nothing wrong with feminine activities. If you genuinely like those elements, then go ahead and enjoy your bacon wrapped steaks with a double whiskey. But you don’t need to make it your personality.

If your stove sucks, get an induction burner. They head up super quickly, are lightweight and far better than most stoves.

Get a decent chef’s knife and a reasonably large cutting board. Do your research on this.

Don’t expect to be good at cooking at first. When you start out, a 30 minute recipe will take an hour; a recipe that looks gorgeous in the photos will be flat on your plate; the food will be undersalted, overcooked, not perfect; your greens will be cold by the time your steak is ready. But the food will still be delicious. It will still nourish you. It will still feed you and your loved ones.

Some of my best memories have come from meals I have made for others. I hope you can experience that too.

  1. If you can afford false ↩︎

  2. Unless canned ↩︎