1. Get a knife that is crazy sharp. Keep it sharp.
When your knife is dull, you have to saw through everything. Cooking is harder and takes longer. When your knife is sharp, you can cut things in one stroke. Either learn how to sharpen your own knife every couple of weeks, or go to a specialty kitchen store and pay someone to do it for you.
2. Your other tools that are meant to cut things should also be very sharp.
- Buy the sharp, cheap vegetable peelers like these from Kuhn Rikon so that you can just throw them away the second they get dull.
- Do not own graters or zesters that aren’t made by Microplane. The company started out making woodworking tools, but then realized that what they were really making were some seriously badass kitchen tools. Microplane = lime zest in three seconds.
- Box graters are good, multitasking kitchen tools, but that one you inherited from your grandma is useless. Throw it away and buy one made by Microplane.
If your peeler is sharp enough, it may actually feel like the potatoes are peeling themselves.
…NOT like this.
Putting your index finger on top of the blade is not a stable way to hold your knife; actually, it’s pretty unsafe. Put your thumb on one side of the blade and your index finger on the other, with your other three fingers holding the blade. It may feel awkward at first, but it offers you way more control. You’ll get used to it.
4. Always create a flat side on food before you cut/slice it.
The flat surface will make food more stable, so cutting it will be much safer. And if you can, start curling your fingers under to hold food and resting the knife against your knuckle. You’ll get used to it and eventually cut faster. Just force yourself to practice.
5. Learn how to chop food the most efficient way to save time.
The strategy illustrated here of making horizontal slices, then vertical slices two ways, will work for many different foods besides onions.
6. Keep oil, salt, and pepper on your counter.
- Put oil in a container with a spout.
- Keep salt in an open container so you can grab some whenever.
- Have a pepper grinder on hand.
7. Keep pantry essentials in the front of your cabinet.
3. Soy sauce
4. Your favorite spices and seasonings
8. Put your most-used tools in the drawer closest to where you work.
2. Vegetable peeler
3. Small kitchen spoons
4. Wooden spoon
5. Slotted spoon
6. Measuring cups
7. Measuring spoons
9. Rubber spatula
10. Fish spatula
9. Get the things you rarely use out of the way.
These things can go in the drawer across the room.
1. Rolling pin
2. Cherry pitter
3. Melon baller
4. Christmas tree-shaped cookie cutters
Mounted shelves, revolving shelves, drawer organizers, whatever. As long as you don’t have to pull seventeen containers out of the cabinet every time you reach for the cinnamon, a real spice rack will save you serious time. Also, every time you reach for a single spice, you will probably be inspired to use a whole bunch more, seeing as they’re right in front of you, and all.
Yay, creativity! Yay, spices!
Chances are, you have way too many pots and pans, and they are all stacked messily in your cabinet. A couple of saute pans, a big stew pot, a smaller pot, and a nonstick pan are all you really need. And, instead of stacking them, build a pot rack and hang them up.
12. Clear enough space to work.
Get everything you don’t need off the countertops before you cook. The end.
13. Read the recipe(s) all the way through before you start cooking.
How annoying is it to find out midway through cooking that a recipe calls for room-temperature butter, and realizing that yours is still in the fridge?
Understanding an entire recipe before you start cooking means that you can always stay three steps ahead of yourself: Use the right pan for the cooking, the right size bowl for mixing. No surprises.
14. Have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go.
It’s anybody’s guess whether that beer was an ingredient or a stress reliever.
All ingredients should be set out in front of you before you start cooking. Professional chefs refer to the collection of ingredients required for a certain dish as mise en place, and they spend a significant amount of time during the day making sure that their mise is totally prepped and ready to go before dinner service starts.
Three rules of mise en place:
1. It’s OK to measure certain ingredients as you go, as long as all you have to do is take them out of their container. (Think liquids, oils, and pantry staples like flour and sugar.)
2. However, any ingredients that requires an extra step — like cleaning, chopping, roasting — that should be done ahead of time. So, if a recipe calls for minced garlic, or a certain number of egg whites, or chopped herbs, you should prep and measure those before you start cooking.
3. Keep in mind what you can and can’t do ahead of time. You can’t, for example, just peel and chop a bunch of potatoes or apples and let them sit around while you do other things or they’ll brown. Knowing how to prep is knowing how to cook.
1. Get your chicken for dinner marinating while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning.
2. If you are cooking pasta — or really, boiling anything as part of a recipe — know the first thing you do is put a pot of water on the boil.
3. Bake the cake before you start cooking the entrée, because you’re going to have to wait at least an hour for said cake to cool before you can frost it anyway (so annoying).
Making one huge batch, once, is faster than making three smaller batches over the course of a month. Invest in good, airtight storage containers (think Tupperware, plastic quart containers, or Ball jars), and always have Ziploc bags on hand.
Seven things you can make in bulk and store in the freezer indefinitely:
- Tomato sauce
Six things you should prep in bulk and store in the fridge for up to a week:
- Salad dressing
- Chopped vegetables
- Cooked meat or poultry
- Hard-boiled eggs
17. Cook the same thing over and over again.
Variety is nice, but put a few dishes in your repertoire that you can cook really well, and really quickly. After you’ve cooked something enough times, you’ll be so familiar with the ingredients and the process that it will be mindless. And you can transfer your knowledge of those processes to other dishes.
If you try to start cooking when your pan or oven is too cold, your food will take longer to cook. (It will lose moisture, too, which means it won’t taste as good.) On the other hand, if you let things get too hot, food will burn. All of your hard work, literally up in flames. Also, you may end up having to fan your beeping smoke alarm with throw pillows and magazines, which will distract you and take up valuable time.