Have you ever spent time in a restaurant kitchen?
Bill Buford’s Heat relates the experience so vividly that I feel like I have. Line cooks assemble appetizers in ten seconds and prep cooks chop one hundred onions in ten minutes.
These are not super heroes and many of these folks haven’t even been to cooking school.
How to Do It at Home
Nothing stops you from cooking at light speed in your own home. If you enjoy spending the entire day in the kitchen enticing a meal out of raw ingredients, please don’t let me stop you. But most people don’t have that much time in the evenings.
I have cooked dinners alongside many people over the years, and it’s always really eye-opening to watch home cooks. I get to see firsthand why people thinking cooking a huge meal in a small amount of time is next to impossible.
Some people simply spend a lot of time on certain tasks. More time than is necessary, I mean. It is not a question of ability or training. A few simple pointers are all you need to speed up your cooking two or threefold.
1. Learn to Chop Quickly
When I have eager assistant cooks in my kitchen, one of their main tasks is chopping. It’s an easy task to delegate, because anyone can do it. Theoretically.
I cannot even begin to explain the difference when my chef friend is on knife duty. I turn around and he has finished eight apples and four carrots; other people take half an hour to do all of that chopping!
Professional chefs may have a lot of practice, but the fastest way to speed up your chopping is to use a the right knife. A large blade chef’s knife is the only thing that should come near your vegetables. Which brings me to my next point…
2. Keep Your Knives Sharp
How often do you sharpen your knives?
There is actually a difference between “sharpening” and “honing,” which is what most of us do at home. Sharpening should be done by a professional, once a year.
Honing is what that long round piece of steel in your knife block is for. You can and should do this every time you use your knife to cook dinner.
3. Plan Ahead
Apart from wasting bits of time here and there, a lack of planning can cause dinner to be delayed by hours.
One night I set out to make mahi mahi burgers and left the fish shopping till the night of the dinner. After I had to look in three different stores and could only find frozen fish, I got home late and kept everyone waiting while we tried every possible method to defrost the fish as fast as possible.
There is a reason that restaurants have teams of prep cooks – assemble everything you need before you dive in.
4. Cover Your Pots
Pasta, soups, steamed vegetables, poached fish – countless recipes require you to boil liquid. Waiting for pots to boil can be a huge time sink in your dinner preparation.
OChef makes a great analogy:
“Mothers everywhere have been telling us for years that 40% to 99% of body heat is lost through the head when we don’t wear our hats in cold weather. But it works just the same with cooking.”
When you boil water without a lid on the pot, you are essentially adding heat at the bottom and then letting it out again from the surface of the water, requiring more time and energy for the same task.
5. Set-up Your Space Smartly
Have you ever had one of those mornings when you are getting dressed and just cannot find the shirt you were planning to wear? Or your keys? Or wallet?
When one crucial item is holding you back, everything else has to stop while you look for it. The same thing happens in the kitchen. If there are four different places your spatula could be, you have to spend four times as long looking for it when you should be flipping burgers.
“A place for everything, and everything in its place,” may be another piece of motherly advise that went in one ear and out the other, but in the kitchen, it is a real time saver.
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