8 Food Storage Secrets to Borrow From Chefs
If you're a fan of cooking shows, you've probably heard the term mise en place. The French phrase might sound fancy, but the idea and translation couldn't be simpler: "everything in its place." For home cooks — especially those of us slinging supper in cramped kitchens that are short on storage space — that may seem easier said than done. But borrow these tips that professional chefs use to keep their restaurant kitchens hyper-organized, and you'll not only take your fridge, pantry, and spice cabinet to a new level of order, but you'll save money and space while doing it.
Standardize Your Food Storage
If you're like most home cooks, you have at least a dozen different shapes and sizes of food storage containers taking up valuable real estate in drawers. And they each come with their own specific lid, which always seems to have disappeared when you're looking for it.
Instead, simplify your food storage system by switching to plastic deli containers like chefs use in their professional and home kitchens. They're inexpensive to buy online or at restaurant supply stores. Or, better yet, save them when you get take-out or delivery so they don't cost you an extra penny. They're transparent, so it's easy to see their contents at a glance. They come in three sizes (8, 16, and, 32 ounces), stack easily, save space, and since all three sizes use the same-sized lid, you can eliminate that annoying search for matching containers and lids once and for all.
Tame That Spice Cabinet
Those 8-ounce deli containers are also the perfect tool for taming and maximizing unruly spice cabinets. Forget that jumble of glass jars, squat metal tins, tall boxes, plastic bags, and more mismatched containers that never want to stay stacked and organized. Make the switch to small, transparent deli tubs, which are both airtight and help save valuable cabinet space.
Learn to Love Labels
Once you've organized items from your fridge, pantry, and spice cabinet into a unified system of stackable deli containers, label the contents with two other inexpensive, universally-loved chef tools: painter's tape and a permanent marker. The tape stays in place when you want it to, but is also easy to remove without any gummy residue. Keep the labels facing out for at-a-glance organization.
Related: How to Stock A Complete Pantry
Store Like With Like
Some home cooks organize their pantries by types of container rather than types of foods (like all of the canned goods, cardboard boxes, or plastic bags in one section of a shelf). But professional cooks organize their larders by food type — no matter what type of containers they're in — so they can see all of their condiments, grains, pastas, and more in one place. It may help to add some open storage bins to your pantry shelves to corral all the tall boxes of spaghetti and bags of egg noodles, or various-sized bottles of oils and vinegars, in one spot.
Go Big With Essentials
You won't see small paper bags of baking essentials like flour and sugar in professional kitchens. One reason, of course, is that they're more expensive than buying in bulk. And the other is that those open bags absorb other flavors and odors, and can attract little bugs. So think like a chef and buy larger than standard-sized essentials like flour and sugar, and then dole out the bags into airtight containers that will help keep your staples fresh longer while saving you money.
To keep raw meat from contaminating other foods, chefs often store it in bins on the bottom shelf of their walk-in refrigerators. At home, you can apply this idea by storing raw chicken, beef, fish, and other proteins in their own drawer, bin, or large rectangular food storage container on the lowest level of the fridge. That way if that package of raw steaks or chicken breasts leaks, it won't drip down and contaminate the food containers and fresh vegetables below.
Save Your Scraps
Chefs are ingenious at finding ways to reuse food trimmings and scraps since it's essential to keeping their costs down. But you don't need to be cooking on a large scale to take up this habit that's good for your wallet, as well as the environment. Keep a resealable bag in your freezer to toss vegetable scraps like onion peels, kale and broccoli stems, and carrots or celery that are nearly past-their-prime a bit at a time until you have enough trimmings to make stock. Or save Parmesan rinds to add flavors to soups.
"Front" Your Food
We all have those tubs of yogurt, bottles of salad dressing, and cans of curry paste lurking in the dark corners of our refrigerators and pantries. And when we find them after their expiration dates, it's a waste of good food and money. So take a cue from restaurants and grocery stores, which both "front" their stock by bringing soon-to-expire ingredients that have been relegated to the back into plain sight. That way when you see them in the front of the pantry or fridge shelf, you'll get an instant reminder to use them up while they're still good.
Sure, it takes some effort to get everything in your home kitchen, "in its place." But once you have your restaurant-inspired food storage systems set up, you'll see how much easier, efficient, and money-saving they can be, you'll never go back to your old, unorganized ways.