Whether you call these kitchen hacks, strategies, tips, tricks, techniques or anything else, weaving some common sense shortcuts into your day-to-day cooking will improve your quality of life in the kitchen.
1. Start with heat. Before doing anything else, turn on the oven, crank up the broiler, preheat a skillet, and set water to boil. Appliances, pots, pans, and water take time to get hot. Boiling water is always my first move; chances are it’ll be useful for something.
2. Use kitchen scissors to chop cooked or tender raw vegetables (especially greens) right in the bowl or pan.
3. Put all the produce together in a colander and rinse under cold water. (If you have a large amount, wash in batches, putting what’s done on towels.) During downtime while cooking, wash vegetables used toward the end of a recipe. Rinse foods like carrots and cabbage after they’ve been trimmed or peeled.
4. If a recipe calls for minced garlic, minced ginger, and/or minced chiles at the same time, consolidate the job with my go-to technique: Peel the garlic and ginger, trim the chiles, and put them all in a pile. Then chop and mince them together using a rocking motion.
5. Mince and freeze ginger. Speaking of ginger, since it can be a pain to peel little bits at a time, when a recipe calls for minced ginger I peel and mince a whole knob, put it into a small plastic bag and freeze it. The next time you need ginger just slice some off with sharp knife.
6. Freeze tomato paste. Now that we’re talking about freezing things, whenever you open a can of tomato paste and don’t use the whole thing (which is most of the time), put the rest into a small plastic bag and freeze it. The next time you need tomato paste, just slice off thin pieces with a sharp knife. Exactly the same as ginger (above).
7. Big, thick pieces of food take longer to cook through than those cut small or sliced thin. This is obvious but worth remembering. That’s as true of vegetables as it is of meat, and with a knife in your hand you have quite a bit of control over the size and shape of the ingredients before they hit the pan.
8. Brown meat on one side.If you’re making a stew or a braise that requires browning meat, feel free to just brown it really well one side (rather than turning it four times to brown every single surface). The point is to develop flavor, and one nicely caramlized side is usually sufficient for that.
9. Making a pureed vegetable soup? Grate your veggies instead of chopping them. If you cut them into chunks, they’ll take 20 minutes or more to soften. But grated, they’re ready in a flash.
10. When you sauté or simmer something moist—such as vegetables, beans, or sauces—lay a different food on top (especially a protein like fish, chicken, or eggs), cover with a lid, and let the steam naturally cook that upper layer. For instance, for a fast Eggs Florentine, steam the eggs on top of the spinach rather than poaching them separately.
11. Use less liquid when braising: Submerge your braising ingredients in about one inch of liquid, cover the pot, and cook, turning occasionally, adding a little liquid as necessary.
12. One sandwich is faster than four: Cut a baguette in half the long way, assemble one giant sandwich, then cut that into as many pieces as you like. (I’ve seen people do the opposite!)
13. Cut around the core: This method is a fast way to prep apples, pears, tomatoes, cabbage, peaches, and bell peppers. Slice downward around the core, removing flesh in three or four pieces; then cut flesh into slices or wedges.
14. Instead of roasting winter veggies, eat them raw. Squash, beets, parsnips, and celery root make great salads and slaws. Since root vegetables are sturdy, grate them. If they’re still too crispy for comfort, marinate them for a half hour or longer in a vinaigrette.
15. Prep Brussels sprouts in the food processor. The machine does the job in a few pulses, and the small pieces will broil in about half the time. Plus, you get more of the delicious crispy bits that I can’t get enough of (just ask my daughters).
16. Some soups need to simmer for hours, but cold soups, such as gazpacho, involve simply putting ingredients in a blender and turning it on. So underrated.
17. Use frozen vegetables in soups—or any dish. Minimally processed and chilled immediately after harvest, frozen vegetables are an anomaly in the frozen-food aisle—a true gift to cooks in a hurry. I always keep frozen peas and corn on hand.
18. Unless you’re baking—or roasting something that requires an initial blast of very high heat—you don’t have to wait for the oven to reach its set temperature before putting in the food. Veggies and slow-roasted or braised meat work well this way.
19. If you’ve forgotten to let butter soften, melt it in the microwave; then use a brush to apply it to bread for a more even coating.
20. When making meatballs, the most time-consuming part is rolling them. The solution? Don’t. Use two spoons to drop little mounds into the hot skillet. They’ll brown beautifully—and taste just as good.
21. Make “unstuffed” cabbage. Blanching cabbage leaves to make them pliable is onerous. Use cooked cabbage as a base instead of a wrapper—it’ll provide the same taste with much less work.