In a commercial kitchen, half your job is the actual cooking to order and dishing up meals, while the rest is all preparation. You hear the words mise en place used a lot on popular cooking programs, and simply translated it means ‘putting in place’; this refers to organisation and preparing your ingredients and having everything ready so when things heat up, you’ve got everything you need to deliver a meal within minutes.
In all my professional cooking jobs, everything from salads and batters to sauces and meats were pre-prepped for the next day. The same principle can be applied at home, so that making dinner doesn’t need to take a huge chunk of your precious time. Setting aside some time in the week for preparation and a few clever hacks can prepare you for dinner like a professional.
Read the recipe in full first.
This way you’ll have all the steps in your head and will have a better idea of what you are doing. It also prevents you from making mistakes and from needing to constantly refer to the recipe.
Mis en place:
Spend the first portion of your cooking time cutting and prepping all the ingredients before you begin any actual cooking. Then your cooking process with be smooth and uninterrupted.
Boil pasta water in the kettle:
This seems to be a Jamie Oliver favourite. Speed up your pasta cooking by first boiling the water in the kettle before pouring into the pot.
Do you really need to peel the carrot, the potatoes? When a recipe guides you to peel, think about whether this step is really necessary. Peeling can be laborious and unnecessary; many vegetables have the majority of the nutrients in their skin. Don’t ever bother peeling pumpkin or squash if you’re going to roast, boil or grill it. The Butternut and Jap varieties that are most commonly consumed in Australia have thin skins which are delicious to eat, but are also very easily removed after cooking.
Sauté vegetables first:
If you’re making a vegetable soup, cook the diced vegetables in a little oil before adding water; they actually cook much faster this way and saves you waiting for your liquid to boil those veggies tender.
Pre-cutting the veg and chucking in the freezer:
If you have a meal plan for the week – which is also a great way of saving time because you’ll spend less staring into the fridge wondering what to cook – then spend a day prepping, cutting, portioning and freezing the vegetables that you’ll need for each meal.
Pre-cutting meat and freezing:
As above, cut your meat, maybe even marinate it and freeze in zip lock bags to be used through the week. It’s best to do this on the day you buy the meat.
Frozen pastry and pre-making pie and tart cases and freezing:
Always make double or more of the amount of pastry required for a recipe. Freeze the dough in portions, or if you have room in the freezer, roll and press into baking dishes. Once frozen, the pastry case can be removed from the dish. Wrap tightly in cling film and keep in the freezer until needed.
Cook the meat once and eat many ways:
Defrost meat quickly:
If you need to defrost meat quickly, consider placing it on an aluminium tray. Aluminium is a great heat conductor and absorbs surrounding warmth so it can defrost meat more quickly than in a bowl or on a cutting board. If you’re even more time poor, place the meat in a plastic bag and submerge the bag in a bowl of cold water. The water will speed up the defrosting process. Never do this in warm or hot water as this can create a bacteria breeding environment.
Make Sauces and Marinades:
When you make sauces and marinades, make double the amount and freeze the excess to be used another day.
Need COLD butter but only have soft?
If you need cold butter rubbed into flour for pastry or a crumble, quickly freeze your butter and then grate it. Saves you a lot of time rubbing cubed butter into tiny pieces.
Need SOFT butter but only have COLD?
If you need soft butter for cakes or biscuits, don’t leave a big hunk of butter on the bench to bring to room temperature. Cut it into small cubes and it’ll soften much faster.
Peeling garlic …
…is basically the most annoying task ever, especially when you have to peel hundreds of tiny organic cloves (one of the worst days of my working life). Instead, crush the cloves with your hands or a rolling pin and then toss into a large bowl. Place another large bowl upside down over the top and shake the garlic inside the 2 bowls vigorously for a minute. You should have some nicely peeled garlic.
15. Cheese need grating ? What a bore!
Pre-oil your grater before grated cheese. Rub a little neutral oil on the surface of your grater before you grate cheese. This step stops the cheese from sticking to the grater and prevents a jerky grating motion
16. Grate ginger and garlic instead of mincing it, it takes much less time and you get a much finer result
17. Cut tomatoes quickly! Place cherry tomatoes between 2 plates and use a serrated knife to cut them in half
18. Need to shred some meat? If you have a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, toss the meat into the mixer bowl and let the machine do the work while your hands are free to do something else.
19. Keep your pantry, fridge and freezer well organised. This saves you time staring into your storage areas or rummaging as you try to find something. Even better, label EVERYTHING. Instead of forcing your brain to recognise ingredients by look, our brains process the written word much quicker and you’ll find what you need in no time.
20. Don’t keep your most-used kitchen utensils in a drawer, keep them in a jar by the side of the stove where you need them most and will always be able to find them
21. Do other stuff while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil: When you’re preparing breakfast, lunch or dinner, think about whether there is a kitchen task you could complete while you happen to be in there that will save you time later. Waiting for toast to be ready? Dice some veg. Dinner simmering in a pot on the stove? Think about what you need to prep for tomorrows meals. This is how professional chefs work; always think ahead to what you need next and if you have time, do it!
22. Got a slow cooker or crock pot? Use it! You have to love an appliance that allows you to chuck everything in and leave it on all day till you’re ready to eat in the evening. Help your slow cooker process by spending a day cutting and prepping all the ingredients and freezing them.
The best possible way to save time making dinner? Go Mamabake! You’ll have a freezer full of meals made by someone else’s hands.