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The kitchen can be a glorious creative space. The smells of spices and cooking foods. The bubbling of boiling water, or the sizzling of seared meat. Cooking is an art form that often requires patience and an almost alchemical understanding of the ingredients you’re working with and how they interact with one another. At the end of a stint in the kitchen, you have a delicious meal to nourish your body and soul.
Food is more than just sustenance, it can be communicative and a form of love. There is a reason we often describe comforting things as “chicken soup for the soul.” And how good is it when you have a bad day and you (or someone you care about) orders or cooks you that one special meal that just makes the day better?
However, we’re all human. Sometimes we’re tired, sick, or just plain old can’t be bothered. They say that even the Pope gets sick of Sundays, and if that’s the case then even Marco Pierre White must get sick of the kitchen. Well, this list is for those days. The days when you have to cook, but don’t want to spend the day in the kitchen.
1 – Use Fresh Where Possible
Gordon Ramsey has cemented a reputation for flying off the handle when restaurants use frozen food. Although his problem is more the fact that these restaurants are charging full price for food that has been frozen for a week or more, the fact is that fresh food is just better, and easier to get a hold of nowadays than ever before.
Online shopping has really taken the hassle out of getting fresh produce, and you can find excellent meat and poultry for sale online.
The reason fresh food saves time in the kitchen is very simple, defrosting. Although defrosting and thawing out food is a set-and-forget kind of deal, cooking fresh can drastically reduce your prep time. It’s a shorter and more streamlined process to get your chicken out of the fridge and start cooking, then it is to go in the kitchen in the morning, take out some frozen chicken, and then let it thaw through the day.
Not only that, but if your chicken hasn’t appropriately thawed then you can’t use it to cook and need to work out another plan – which either involves more investigation in the kitchen or a loss of money with eating out.
2 – Mise en Place
Pronounced “meez on plus”, mise en place is one of the simplest yet most necessary steps to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. The term is French and means “everything in its place.” In commercial kitchens, this translates to having easy access to necessary tools and ingredients for several staff members and multiple dishes.
In the context of the home kitchen, it’s a far easier process. Go through your recipe, or if you’re cooking from memory then maybe write down the steps involved. Get out all the necessary ingredients and tools you’ll need and place them close by. You know what you’ve done? You’ve completely eliminated the need for you to go running around and rummaging through your fridge, pantry, and cupboards, consuming valuable time and energy searching for that one elusive ingredient. You’ve also ensured that you actually have everything you need, and reduced time having to come up with a plan B if you don’t.
Not only this but mise en place actually makes the next step much, much easier.
3 – Clean As You Go
Are you done using that knife? Go to the sink and wash it. It will take less than a minute to wash the knife, and then you won’t have to wash it later. Did you just empty that little ramekin of garlic and spices that you prepped for later use? Wash it out. Again, less than a minute and saves time later.
Most of the time spent in the kitchen is spent on the cooking process is on cleaning up afterwards, and although washing dishes, cleaning table tops, and putting things away is a massively time-consuming task on its own, the simple principle of breaking tasks up into smaller chunks is exceedingly effective in saving time on clean up. When you clean things immediately after you’re done with them while you’re cooking, it can be a little bit more of an energy investment, but it also means you won’t have to clean up when you’re done.
Keep track of the tasks involved in your cooking, and when a utensil, cutlery item, plate/bowl/cup isn’t going to be used anymore, wash it before continuing with the next step. Then you’ll be done cooking, look at your totally clean kitchen and realise “I don’t have to clean anything.” If that doesn’t make you smile then we don’t know what will.
4 – One-Pot Meals
Fun fact, lots of people hate cooking, and even more hate cleaning. Really, even if you love to cook you can probably sympathise with this. You know how you have one of those days that’s just been super demanding on your mental and physical energy, then it comes time to cook and you want to cook about as much as you want someone to drill a hole in your head. Well, that’s how people who hate cooking feel about spending time in the kitchen all the time.
The good news is that there’s a plethora of recipes designed specifically to minimise time in the kitchen, one-pot meals. The fact is that the more pots and pans you’re using in your cooking, the more time you’re going to spend in the kitchen. Reducing these to one pot limits the number and size of ingredients you use, which then limits your prep and cooking time, which then limits your cleaning time. Finally, when the whole thing is done you won’t have a whole bunch of large, awkward pots and pans to clean, just one.
Couldn’t be simpler.
5 – Make Batches
Making food? Makes lots! Eat what you want for dinner and then portion off any leftovers, stick them in the fridge for lunches at work, or dinners when you can’t be bothered. On those difficult days, take out a batch of food from the freezer and thank yourself for preparing for your future self. A lot of the things to save time in the kitchen revolve around thinking about your future self. Do the extra steps now and later on you will be so thankful.
6 – Disregard Cheffy Myths
Always make your own stock. Use the most expensive wine possible. Don’t cook your steak well done. You can’t put cheese on fish.
Honestly the amount of utter *expletive* that the cooking industry throws at us is incredible. Cooking shows and hipster “foodie” cultures tell us that cooking always has to be passionate, always has to be about finery, and that universal 5-star standards are the only way to cook.
It’s not true. Food is made to be eaten and enjoyed, and if you enjoy fish drenched in cheese, eat it. If you enjoy a well-done steak, you eat that leather. It’s your kitchen, your rules. Embrace simplicity, cook what you like, and if anyone dares to criticise you for enjoying your food, then eat it with gusto and watch them explode. Also, cooking the way that you like will make your time in the kitchen feel shorter, and more enjoyable, and like you get a better payoff for your effort.
7 – C-C-C-Combo Maker!
If the reference has gone over your head then just, forget about it and pay attention to this – making combos of spices can save a heap of time.
If you find yourself commonly using oregano, parsley, rosemary, and whatever else in your recipes, it can be worth taking a little while out of your day to put these spices together in a spare jar or shaker. That way when you want to use it again, you don’t have to go rummaging through your spice rack for every individual spice or herb.
8 – Set-And-Forget
They say that a watched pot never boils, but a lot of recipes involve just standing there and…watching pots. If, like many other home cooks out there, you can’t stand watching food bubble away, it may be a good idea to invest in a few set-and-forget cooking apparati. Slow cookers, pressure cookers, and sous vide machines all allow you to just chuck your ingredients in, set a time, close it up, and then go do other stuff while your food cooks. Couldn’t be simpler.
9 – Frozen Fruit and Veg
Yes, we know, we opened this article with espousing the joys of fresh produce but frozen stuff saves so much time! Most things require chopping of some kind, but most fruit and veggies can be bought pre-chopped and frozen. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding some frozen peas or corn to your stew, or frozen potatoes, beans, etc to your roast.
10 – Enjoy It
Although we acknowledge this might not be possible for everyone, cooking should always be as enjoyable as possible. The best cooking advice this writer has ever heard came from the movie Today’s Special, a film that emphasises the genuine craft of cooking, and the magic of creating food from a place of love and enjoyment.
As the saying goes “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Don’t stress in the kitchen. If you burn something, you’ve learned and earned a free takeaway. If you undercook something, you’ve learned something new. If you’ve decided to experiment with something odd and it works out you found something new to enjoy!
As Akbar says in Today’s Special, “cooking should come from here (head), here (heart), and a little bit from here (crotch).”