5 Tricks To Help You Get Dinner on the Table Faster
Recently, I visited my friend Liv in her home. It was one of those visits where we were just doing normal stuff: working during the day, cooking dinner, planning meals. On my first night there, I offered to make dinner, and when I told her it was ready, she was surprised by how quickly I had gotten the meal on the table.
"I'm the slowest cook in the world," she told me. I didn't think much of it – I cook and write about cooking for a living, so I figured I just have a little more practice than she does. The next night, as I sipped a beer while she took a turn at cooking, I realized she really was kind of a slow cook. As I watched, I noticed she was missing a few key moves that I generally take for granted – just small changes, that ultimately sped her up significantly. These are the tips I gave her, and she has since given up the title of world's slowest cook.
Wear an apron.
Aprons may feel kind of fussy, but I think they help a home cook to cook more boldly. Someone who's considered about messing up their clothes is going to move more cautiously through preparing a recipe than someone wearing an apron. A lot of speed in the kitchen is connected to confidence – knowing where you're going, and not going there delicately. Think of an apron as your armor: No need to worry about splashing yourself with hot sauce as you aggressively season your wings. Go ahead and put your full power into whisking, any droplets won't ruin your shirt. Don't think twice about bringing your tomato sauce to a healthy burble. Plus: having an easily accessible place to wipe your hands is absolutely key.
Use a trash bowl.
My friend's kitchen involves both a trash can and a compost bucket, which happen to be on opposite sides of the room. Watching her cook, I realized she was spending a ton of time gathering waste – garlic skins, plastic wrap, pepper seeds – and taking them to their appropriate bins. I suggested that she add two bowls to her workspace, one for trash and one for compost, to save her the trips. That way, she could clear her workspace without moving around.
Sharpen your knives…
For Liv, and for most people, I think the thing that takes the longest in their cooking process is the chopping. Having sharp knives can really speed up the process of cutting something as simple as an onion, and using sharper knives is actually safer, as a sharp knife requires less force and is less likely to slip and hurt you. A lot of kitchen stores offer knife-sharpening services, or you can learn to do it yourself.
…And your knife skills
Spend a few minutes learning how chefs chop your most-used ingredients. For Liv, this means onions and garlic, which she reaches for almost every day. For someone else, it might mean bell peppers and ginger. Spending just a few minutes seeing how the pros do it can save you hours in the long-term – this is a great video to start with.
Don't fear high heat.
If you're cooking on an electric stove, it can take quite a while for the burners to heat up. Don't be afraid to crank the heat to get things going, then turn the burner down when you need to. For foods that want a good sear – steaks, especially – don't be afraid to go all the way to high heat.
Read the recipe twice.
Especially when you're cooking something for the first time, it's helpful to really internalize what you're going to do. Read the recipe once, then read it again and try to contextualize the steps so you can keep track of what you're doing – is the author telling you to prepare a marinade, then prep your vegetables before combining everything on the stove? It's helpful to try to understand the larger phases of the recipe so you can stay on track. There's nothing wrong with re-reading as you cook, but you want to be reminding yourself, not processing for the first time.