Cut Waste by Sharpening Your Cooking Skills

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor
Butter

Learning to cook is one of the best ways you can reduce packaging waste and eat healthier. Lest you think packaging ain’t such a big deal, know that it accounts for more than 30% of municipal solid waste, and has since the 1990s. Considering that roughly 50% of packaging sales are food containers or wrapping, it’s safe to assume that food packaging is kind of a biggie.

The good news? You can slash your packaging consumption by making a waste-slaying grocery store kit, and simply doing a whole lot more home cookin’. But what if your culinary skills are a little rusty?

Cooking Classes to the Rescue

Many people are intimidated by cooking, but it really amounts to building a set of basic skills that you combine and recombine to create various dishes. If you don’t want to just pick up a recipe book and begin, I advise taking some cooking classes. They’ve really helped me overcome my fear of the kitchen, and enabled me to cook fresh, healthy food from whole ingredients that require far less plastic and waste in general.

I don’t recommend, however, starting with Intricate Pastry-Making 401. The best classes to begin with are foundational in nature, such as knife skills, or making a sauce. It’s totally worth your time to get better at the fundamentals because then you can feel confident in a wider variety of recipes, and even begin to experiment on your own.

Sharpening Your Knife Skills

Onion

Precise knife skills are the foundation of cooking | image: Kim/Flickr

Using a knife properly really is truly a cooking basic, and quite frankly, most people do it wrong. You should hold the blade at its base, with thumb and forefinger gripping the steel just before the handle and your last three fingers gripping the handle itself. It seems counterintuitive, but you have so much more control this way.

Chop with a rocking motion rather than actually lifting your knife off the board. Your stabilizing hand should be curled in on itself, bracing the veggie/fruit/bread/whatever with nails rather than splayed fingers. This leads to less dismemberment, which is a good thing.

Restaurants and cooking schools in your area often offer classes where you can get instruction from a real chef. If you’re the type who’s prone to cutting your fingers  (like yours truly), this is a good bet. Just google “Your town + knife skills class” and you’ll see quite a few pop up.

You can also watch instructional videos online if that’s more your speed. Good options for knife skills include The Kitchn and Allrecipes.

Master these Basic Techniques

Brussels Sprouts

Sautéing Brussels sprouts before you roast them cuts back on time needed in the oven | image: John Sullivan/Flickr

There are a variety of other basic cooking techniques as well. For instance, you can cook a variety of meats, veggies, and even fruits by roasting them in the oven. I often put whole apples in a glass dish, cook at 400 degrees until their insides burst, then run them through a food mill. It’s the best dang applesauce you ever tasted, trust me. Roasting and broiling also lead to epic potato wedges and truly amazing broiled pizza. You heard me. Broiled. Freaking. Pizza.

Sautéing, in which you cook food in a pan over medium to high heat with a bit of fat, results in crisp-tender vegetables, succulent mushrooms, and moist stir fried meats. Soups and sauces are foundational to any cooking repertoire, usually starting with some variation of a sofrito. And baking, of course, leads to all sorts of sweet and savory goodness.

Some Self-Taught Tips

No cook can be truly self-sufficient without at least a working knowledge of the skills listed above. Again, you can find classes on all these topics or can teach yourself online. Here’s an excellent basic primer on mindset, And if you’re looking for motivation, here’s a fire-under-your-bum list of excuse-busting tips, so pay heed. That are also guides for specific skills that every cook should have in their repertoire, such as frying an egg, roasting a turkey, or even softening butter.

In the end, cooking is about more than impressing your friends and saving money: it’s about eating really well and helping the environment in the meantime. And really, it isn’t that hard. People have been doing it for millennia, and I promise you are not less teachable than a caveman.

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.