I recently roasted my first chicken. It was a disaster. I was so terribly worried I'd dry out the chicken (as you read about so often) that I undercooked our bird to the point where it was barely edible. Frustrated because I'd read and referenced so many recipes, I decided maybe I just wasn't meant to roast a great chicken. And then I talked to a friend who encouraged me to try again, a different way. Before I began food writing, I was an English teacher, so I'm well aware of the fact that there are all different kinds of learners out there. Some of us are visual learners while others must go through the motions of a new skill on their own to really get it. After my failed attempt, I now have a theory that roasting a chicken might just be one of those skills you need to see before you understand how to "get it" on your own. While it's not difficult to prepare, I think it is difficult to understand when the chicken is done — what the breast feels like, how the leg should jiggle just so, what the juices look like when the bird is perfectly cooked. I could've read a million different recipes and still be left standing by the oven, confused.
For Attempt #2, everything went beautifully. My friend Olaiya walked me through the whole process visually and now I feel like I could teach anyone how to perfectly roast a chicken at this point. I just needed to see it done right before me. Making pie dough is another skill that's much like roasting a chicken: it's nice to have someone walk you through how exactly the dough should feel when the butter's fully incorporated. Learning to properly cook a steak, how to use a grill, or trimming and pruning vegetables in the garden are other skills that I find necessary to witness first before simply googling a "how-to" piece.
What kind of learner are you? Do you find that there are certain kitchen skills that are just necessary to learn by seeing someone else do them versus reading numerous cookbooks or manuals?
Megan is a freelance writer and recipe developer. Her cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings, will be available in bookstores nationwide Dec/2013. Megan also owns the Seattle-based artisan cereal company, Marge Granola.
Read more from Megan »