If you’re anything like us, then lockdown has had you asking the same question over and over: ‘what can I make in the kitchen today?’. We’ve been cooking in a whole new way – scouring store cupboards to see what we’ve actually got, but also spending a lot more time actually preparing meals. Working from home means we can prep for dinner at lunch, keep an eye on pots bubbling away throughout the day, leave dough to rest and prove while we catch up on emails or simply get started on dinner just a little earlier due to the lack of a daily commute.
Confining ourselves to our homes is vital to getting the world back on track, not to mention supporting the frontline workers who are ensuring we are looked after if we do fall ill. And while it obviously has its many downsides, one thing we can do to stay positive is keep busy in the kitchen. Baking (sourdough in particular) has become unimaginably popular over the past few weeks (and if you’re still keen to create your own sourdough starter, here’s how) – but if you’re still finding flour and yeast quite hard to source, there are plenty of other skills you can pick up within the walls of your own home. From the simple to the more in-depth, here are five ways to make yourself a better cook and come out of lockdown armed with a new arsenal of culinary techniques.
Sure, it sounds complicated and cheffy – but a ‘compound’ butter is nothing more than softened butter flavoured with other ingredients. It really couldn’t be simpler – allow a stick of butter to soften, beat in your chosen flavourings, then wrap it up in a log and pop it in the freezer until you want to use it. Slice off thick coins of the butter to then cook with – nothing is more satisfying than watching some gently melt over a sizzling steak or turning into a foam, ready for basting over fish.
We’ve got plenty of recipes to choose from if you’re after some inspiration – our pink peppercorn and horseradish butter is an obvious partner to steak, while our cacio e pepe butter provides an instant pasta sauce when tossed through spaghetti. And if you happen to get your hands on the last of this year’s wild garlic, it’s certainly worth making a wild garlic butter to keep in the freezer for the months to come.
If you're a true devotee to the butter cause, then go the whole hog and make a batch of cultured butter from scratch, too – all it takes is double cream, yoghurt, salt and a day or two to let it ferment, and you'll be well on your way to restaurant-quality butter that's perfect for adding flavours to.
The act of adding salt, spices and water to vegetables then leaving them out of the fridge for weeks can feel like a dark art sometimes – but it’s such a simple process and provided you follow the recipe exactly and make sure your jars are clean, the risk of it going wrong is incredibly low. Not only does it transform the flesh flavours of vegetables into something wonderfully tangy, crunchy and moreish – you’re doing your gut some serious good at the same time.
For those that are really into their fermenting, then there’s a wealth of deeply scientific equations, charts and knowledge to be discovered, but if you just fancy having a go at making your own sauerkraut, giving garlic cloves an umami boost or adding a funky flavour to a tomato salsa, all you need is a few basic ingredients, a clean jar and time.
After something you can really get your teeth into? Charcuterie takes the same basic principles behind fermenting but applies them to meat – resulting in some of the most delicious delicacies in existence. While you’ll need specialist kit, ingredients and a good understanding of the process to make something like salami, Kuba Winkowski’s ‘nduja recipe is the perfect starting point for would-be charcutiers (you can even age it in the fridge if you’re worried about leaving it to hang at room temperature). And if you have a barbecue suitable for hot-smoking, his kielbasa are ideal for taking the next step to becoming a master of cured meats.
That dusty old bottle of Pernod you bought at the duty-free years ago? Those miniature bottles of fruit schnapps that no one can remember where they came from? The half-drunk triple sec that’s slowly crystallising at the back of the cupboard? Now’s the time to unleash their potential – and your inner mixologist – by getting to grips with the alchemy of making cocktails. While you might not like the taste of, say, tequila on its own, when you add a little lime, a simple fruit syrup and plenty of ice, you create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts (and absolutely delicious). And if you're not drinking alcohol, there are still plenty of non-alcoholic cocktails to shake up at home, too.
Any chef will tell you that the secret to incredible sauces, stews and soups is often down to stock – an ingredient many of us take for granted. While cubes and powders are great for convenience and speed, they can never hold a candle to a cauldron of ingredients that have been gently simmering away for hours on the hob. If you’re working from home it’s just a case of throwing the ingredients into the pot in the morning, enjoying the aromas that fill your house throughout the day as they develop and meld together, then straining and enjoying the fruits of your (very little) labour.
Creating homemade stock is also the perfect exercise in batch cooking – any you don’t use freezes incredibly well, and if you fill a few ice cube trays with the stuff you’re left with a freezer full of flavour-packed cubes just waiting to be melted into dishes for months to come.