Of course we've all boiled water at some point in our adult lives, steamed a vegetable or two or some other classic cooking basic. But the standard tactics for making meals can actually involve much more than you might think.
Boiling water seems easy enough, but the type of boil and what you're cooking matters. A simmer is where the water is producing small bubbles, while a full rolling boil is exactly as it sounds -- big, bubbling heat. Poaching is a whole other story, with water heated at a very light boil. And, of course, how much water matters. You don't want to fill too much. You'll need about half of the pan or just enough to cover whatever it is that you're cooking. Speaking of pans, pretty much anything can do, but avoid adding the lid for anything but the full rolling boil as it will generate heat that might be too hot for poaching or simmering. While adding salt is said to make the process faster, it does not. But it can make eggs easier to peel, so add it in when you're boiling them.
Melting butter is another cooking basic that few think twice about, but should. A heavy saucepan is said to be best for the job, though if you're a young professional and are lacking pans pretty much anything will work. Add the butter in large chunks and watch the heat! You don't want it to get too hot or it'll separate the butter and likely make it burn. Stir the butter constantly as it melts and pull it off the heat about 3/4 of the way through letting the remaining melt on its own thereafter. Virtually any butter can work, but avoid whipped -- it tends to foam and isn't usually ideal for cooking.
Most people limit steaming to vegetables of all kinds, but almost any food can be steamed including meats and pastas. The key here is a nice, tight-fitting lid to keep the steam in and if you're not using a steaming pan, an insert to keep the item you're cooking above the water so that the steam can flow through. When steaming be sure to cut the food into pieces and don't overfill the pan -- steaming needs a bit of room. Water shouldn't be more than 1/2 inch at the bottom. Anything else will boil the food.
Sautéing is when food is cooked over a high heat in butter or oil. Not to be confused with browning, which is just slightly cooking an item, or pan frying which tends to be used with larger foods. When sautéing, the sauté pan is key for its high sides. This way, nothing spills out. But again if you're lacking on pans, you can use virtually anything with relatively shallow sides. Add in the butter or oil, and make sure you cut the food into small pieces. This is another cooking basic where the food needs room to ensure that steam escapes and properly cooks it.
When it comes pans and pots, Imusa is a good brand for starter kitchens for its price points. Plenty of other brands are out there as other options, too.
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