Nine things you should know how to cook

The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights at 7pm on SBS Food (Ch.33). All episodes are available anytime on SBS On Demand. —

“We all have that one dish in our repertoire that is the baseline level; the threshold dish to our cooking,” says host of SBS’s The Cook Up, Adam Liaw, in his ‘One Dish You Should Know How to Cook’ episode.

“I’m not talking about a signature dish. I’m talking even more basic than that. And what we think that dish is, can tell us a lot about how we cook our food.”

While it may be tempting to challenge yourself with the likes of beef Wellingtons, hand-pulled noodles and souffle, there are some basics that most good cooks know. Mastering these means you’re prepared for any occasion.


poached eggs

Egg poaching intimidates many, but it’s well worth the practice. Once you know how to do it, you can ramp up your Sunday morning breakfasts or add some extra protein to your salads.

“What we think that dish i can tell us a lot about how we cook our food.”

The key to poaching eggs is in the water: you want to poach eggs in water that is just simmering. Rapidly boiling water and big bubbles will make the egg whites break apart.

Then, it’s about slowly placing the eggs into the water; don’t drop them in from dramatic heights.

If you’re worried that your poached egg won’t retain its shape, here’s a tip: place the egg, still in its shell, into the simmering water for 10 seconds. Remove it, then crack the contents into the pot and poach for two minutes. This is enough time to cook the egg white and to keep the egg yolk runny. Cook for 30 more seconds to make it firmer.

If you want to avoid too many stringy tails, be sure to buy your eggs as fresh as possible.


If you know how to cook a steak well, you’ll think twice before ordering one at a restaurant.

“There are so many different ways to cook a steak, and people argue about it all the time. But this is how I cook a steak,” says Adam Liaw.

“I put a lot of salt on it, quite a lot. I tend to add pepper to it too. I know some people don’t like to add pepper when they’re cooking a steak, but I do. I get a heavy frying pan. I get it very hot. Then I put some vegetable oil in it. Not olive oil, not butter, because I think the vegetable oil will give me a much cleaner flavor and it’ll do what I need it to do. “

How long you need to cook a steak depends on the cut. But as a general guide, a 2 cm sirloin steak should be cooked for 1 ½ minutes on each side on high heat if you’d like it rare, 2 minutes on each side for medium rare, 2 ¼ minutes each side for medium and 4½ minutes each side for well done.

As for a fillet, cook it for 2 ½ minutes each side to make it rare, 3 ¼ mins each side for medium rare, 4 ½ mins each side for medium and 6 minutes each side for well done.

Liaw only seasons one side of a steak before placing it in the pan. “And then when I flip it, I’ll season the other side,” he says.

Then, it’s all about focusing on the crust, which Liaw likes crispy. “That is what’s going to make the steak delicious.”

After it’s cooked, accompany your steak with a sauce, whether it’s Liaw’s go-to classic lemon pepper cream sauce, or some zesty chimichurri.



Pancakes are a handy one to have up your sleeve – they’re comforting, highly versatile and it’s worth pleasing a crowd with a very sturdy stack.

Memorizing a good batter recipe – one that’s not too runny and not too thick – means you can take your breakfast in any direction. A standard sweet pancake batter contains a balance of dry and wet ingredients, including flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, bicarb soda, eggs, butter, milk or buttermilk.

Traditionalists may opt for a classic Canadian maple pancake. To up your fruit intake, add some fresh or frozen fruit to the pancake batter – berries (like this berry compote pancake recipe) or bananas work well.

If you want to put your sweet tooth to rest, go savor by removing the sugar and butter from the batter. It’s also best cook the pancakes in oil, as opposed to butter, for a higher smoke point that will allow you to properly cook the more substantial flavoring ingredients. A neutral oil, such as canola, vegetable or grapeseed oil, is ideal.

You may want to try making Vietnamese banh xeo, an umami-loaded chicken and mushroom pancake or some substantial Korean mung bean pancakes.

You can keep most batters refrigerated for the next day when you need to have pancakes two days in a row.


Pies are another food category that can scare chefs away, but they’re a great way to warm up during winter.

“I’ve been brought up in the north of England,” says Nelly Robinson, head chef and owner of Sydney’s nel. restaurant. “Every pub around our area has a fish pie on the menu. And trust me, I’ve had a lot of rubbish ones.”

The keys to a great fish pie are “lots of cheese and good quality fish”. It’s important that the fish isn’t cut too finely; the meat is better in chunks so that it doesn’t disintegrate.

If you’re not in the mood for fish, consider a classic chicken and leek pie or curried cauliflower cheese filo pastry pie.

As long as there’s a filling and a distinctive top, it’s on foot. The style of pie – its shape and the kind of pastry used – guides the consistency of the filling. For instance, if you’re making a pot pie, you can use a slightly wetter filling. If the pastry is the only structural support, ensure the filling is not too wet so it doesn’t see through the pastry. You may also want to consider blind baking in this case.


Risotto has a reputation for being laborious, but it doesn’t have to be. The Italian classic is well worth the effort, whether it’s for a romantic dinner for two or to feed a group of friends. Good lean risottos on high-quality ingredients, including carnaroli or arborio rice. Another key tip is to make it with warm stock, which the rice responds better to.

Risotto is a go-to dish of Carly Findlay, an award-winning writer, speaker and activist. She shares how to cook a pea, pumpkin and lemon risotto on Cook Up.

Findlay says risotto should be in every home cook’s repertoire since “once you’ve got one combination of flavors down, you can just substitute [this] for anything else.”

To make risotto, the onion should be cooked until soft before it’s combined with rice and some wine shortly after.

It’s important to prepare the rice the right way when making risotto. It shouldn’t be washed since the starch is what affords risotto its creamy consistency.

After the mixture is cooked, it’s time to gradually add the warm stock. Add the stock ladle by ladle, waiting for the rice to absorb each ladle before adding the next.

When Findlay is asked if she’s a risotto stirrer, it’s a firm no. “I leave it, I go away and clean the kitchen or do what I need to do and come back,” she says. “I’m not very patient. And so I just want to leave it and do its thing.”

Cheese is stirred in right at the end. Let the risotto rest for a few minutes before serving.

roast chicken

What makes a roast chicken so great is that you don’t need to do much to prepare it and then you can leave it to cook in the oven.

Nelly Robinson brines his chicken, sometimes overnight. “I basically put a lot of butter underneath the skin with herbs, and a little bit of Moroccan spice or something like that in the butter,” Robinson says.

The great thing about roast chicken is that you can take it down any flavor road you desire, whether it’s a classic French-style chicken with citrus and herbs such as rosemary and thyme, or a Portuguese one.

If you’re serving your roast chicken with vegetables, and you’d like them to share the same flavor profile, cook them in the same tray.

Robinson stuffs a chicken with lemon and herbs before roasting it in the oven. “I just cook it on very high heat for about 25 minutes; get it starting to get crispy and I turn it right down,” he says.

Turning the heat down will retain the crispy skin, but allows for juicy, tender chicken meat.

“If you get it too hot, [this] will caramelise the outside too much before the middle is cooked, then it starts to dry out.”

stir fry

A stir fry could be one of the most flavorsome quick meals known to man. You can have many different combinations, and making one can minimize food waste since you can use ingredients already in your fridge. It’s also a dish that’s very hard to get wrong.

Stir-frying is a style of cooking that encourages chefs to improvise, which in turn can lift cooking confidence. While a stir-fry is simple to make, it’s quite choreographic. Preparation is key, so take the time to chop all of your ingredients, placing them in different bowls or in separate places on a chopping board. This helps to work out what to put in first (ingredients that need the most cooking time), and what to put in last (ingredients that need the least cooking time).

If you’re using meat in your stir fry, we suggest cooking this separately so it doesn’t get overcooked. Just add the cooked meat at the end.

Similarly, make your stir-fry sauce in advance and set aside. Once everything else has been cooked, add the sauce, toss it together and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Adding the sauce at the end prevents it from reducing and caramelising during the cooking process.

If you’re looking for stir-fry ideas, we’d suggest Virginia Gay’s tofu and fermented black bean stir fry recipe or Jenevieve Chang’s garlic eggplant stir fry.


Also falling into the efficient food category are curries, which can be as simple or as complicated as one intends. Similar to stir-fries, curries are a fantastic way to use ingredients on hand.

If you don’t have time to make your own curry paste, we’d suggest leveling up some store-bought curry with fresh herbs.

Curries are fridge and freezer friendly, which are ideal if you’d like to store some away for a future work lunch or weeknight dinner. This Sri Lankan fish curry with coconut milk is one of our favourites.

A key to a great curry is to make a curry paste from scratch, using fresh herbs and spices. It’s important that the curry paste balances spices with onions to provide depth of flavour. It’s also important to have aromatics, such as lemongrass or chilli, to lift the flavours.

chocolate cake

It’s wise to have a go-to dessert for whenever you host afternoon tea or need to take something to a friend’s dinner. A trusted chocolate cake is a smart choice, especially if it’s not too rich so it caters to a wide range of tastes.

Donna Hay’s go-to chocolate fudge cake fits the brief, as does Stephanie Stanhope’s layered chocolate cake, which is totally vegan thanks to the use of cocoa powder, almond meal and apple puree.

Chocolate cake is a simple dessert and we urge you not to take shortcuts on. Try to use room-temperature butter and eggs because if these ingredients are cold, they can affect the texture of the cake.

Make sure you sift your dry ingredients to avoid any unwanted lumps. And don’t forget a dash (or two) of salt to prevent the cake from being too sweet.

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