5 Cooking Hacks We Think You Should Learn To Do At Home

You wouldn't believe how easy these are.

IMAGE Majoy Siason

Have you ever said to yourself, "I can do that"?

If you have, then you know the feeling of seeing something and recognizing that it's easy to make yourself. While not everything is as easy as it looks, there are a few that you can totally hack at home. 

Here are 5 cooking hacks that we think you need to be able to do at home so you can be a more skilled cook in the kitchen:   

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1 Make something pickled. 

Guess what? Not all pickles are made of cucumbers. Pickles, while the most common are cucumbers, can be made with just about any food. Pickling or to pickle is basically a method of preserving food in a brine or vinegar solution. Also known as burong or atchara, pickles are easy to do and make. You will have to decide what you're going to be pickling and once you have that, there is a basic pickling solution you can make. 

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Here's how to make it: 

  1. 1. Combine 2 parts vinegar + 1 part sugar in small saucepan. You can add other flavorings such as black peppercorns, bay leaves, and other seasonings and spices at this stage.  
  2. 2. Bring this mixture to a boil and then simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. 
  3. 3. Pour this solution into a sanitized jar filled with your vegetables or fruits that you will pickle. 
  4. 4. Close tightly with the lid and completely cool upside down. 
  5. 5. Store in the refrigerator, right side up, until ready to serve. 

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Photo by Patrick Martires

2 Make a simple vinaigrette. 

Whether it's a vinaigrette or another kind of salad dressing, the point here is that it's actually very simple to make a salad dressing. There are a number of ingredients that you will need but the basic vinaigrette only requires four ingredients: oil, vinegar, salt, and ground black pepper. What makes any salad dressing difficult is the fact that it needs to be emulsified.

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Oil and other liquids like vinegar don't normally combine to create one solution. You need to do something to it so that the two liquids will combine. The answer is actually quite simple: mix it together so hard that the two liquids "combine". In reality, the liquids do not combine at all. What happens is that the liquids break up into super small droplets suspended in each other that it looks like it has combined into one thick mixture. 

Here's how to make a basic vinaigrette even easier: 

  1. 1. Pour 3 parts oil + 1 part vinegar in a squeeze bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid. 
  2. 2. Season with salt and ground black pepper. 
  3. 3. Close the bottle or jar tightly. 
  4. 4. Shake until the mixture is combined and does not separate.
  5. 5. Use immediately or store, refrigerated, until needed. Shake before each use.

Photo by Majoy Siason
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3 Pan fry chicken. 

This may sound ridiculous but we think more people need to learn how to perfectly pan fry chicken in pan on the stovetop. Many fried chicken recipes list down ingredient after ingredient just to make fried chicken more delicious when the fact of the matter is, fried chicken, on its own, is already delicious! 

You don't need a lot of ingredients to make a good fried chicken. All you really need is one other ingredient apart than the chicken: salt. You can certainly add ground black pepper but the main ingredient necessary is salt.  

Here's what you do: 

  1. 1. Pat dry the skin of a chicken cut into serving pieces. 
  2. 2. Generously sprinkle each piece with salt on all sides.
  3. 3. Heat a frying pan over medium heat with enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. 
  4. 4. Once the oil is hot enough, place the chicken pieces in the hot oil skin side down. 
  5. 5. Let the chicken brown on the skin side first before flipping and cooking the next side. 
  6. 6. Once both sides are browned and the insides are cooked through, remove from the heat and serve while hot.  

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Photo by Majoy Siason

4 Construct a good sandwich. 

It might seem like a skill you should already know but you can always learn a few things more to make it right or at least make it better. 

What does a good sandwich look like? How do you make it? Here's what we think you should do to make a good sandwich: 

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  1. 1. Choose your main filling. Are you making a tuna spread or a ham and cheese sandwich? Are you just slathering on a soft spread?     
  2. 2. Use the right bread. The "right bread"means matching the filling with the bread. You may want to choose a soft bread if you're just using a spread but a heartier, crustier bread will be needed for heartier fillings.  
  3. 3. Use a spread or cheese. One of the main reasons for a spread (or cheese) in a sandwich is to prevent the bread from getting soggy from the fillings. The spread usually provides both flavor and moisture but also acts as a barrier against further moistness that the other ingredients may. Put this on the bottom slice so anything that drips down won't make your bread soggy. 
  4. 4. Stack it up. Once you have your bread with its spread ready, you are ready to stack. Start with your meat or protein then follow that up with the vegetables. End with the last slice of bread. Whether this slice has spread or not is up to you. 
  5. 5. Serve it. You did it! You can now either slice it in half then serve or serve it as is. For additional stability, you can insert a long toothpick, or sandwich pick, in the center so it doesn't fall apart before serving. 

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Photo by Trixie Zabal-Mendoza

5 Sear a steak right. 

Searing food is a super useful skill to know how to do. You probably do it with your chicken, pork chops, fish fillets, and other food. However, learning how to do it with a steak, even if it's a pork steak, is a skill that requires more practice from you. Searing is basically a cooking method where food is quickly browned at a high temperature. 

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Here's how to do it: 

  1. 1. Pat dry the surface of your steak and season generously.
  2. 2. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan or cast iron pan over high heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom. 
  3. 3. When the oil begins to shine and wisps appear on the surface, place your steak in the hot oil. 
  4. 4. Let the surface transform into golden brown color first before flipping and browning the other side. 
  5. 5. If desired, add butter and other flavorings, and baste the steak with this mixture as it browns. 
  6. Test for doneness with a meat thermometer. If you don't have one, undercook it first. After all, it's easier to re-cook it to your level of doneness than trying to un-cook it. 
  7. 7. Remove it from the heat and let it rest at least 3 minutes before slicing and serving. 

One final word: always slice against the grain so each bite is as tender as it can be. Watch how it's done with these steak videos:  

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These skills are not hard to learn! We think that everyone with a kitchen should be able to do these cooking hacks so that they have a range of cooking skills so you can brandish those skills when needed. Best of all, you can totally do these things at home and possibly, save yourself the money from buying something that you can make at home easily.   

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