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10 Ways to Be More Efficient in the Kitchen
Whether your kitchen consists of two burners and a countertop that doubles as your dinner table (cue Hot 10 pick Battersby in Brooklyn) or you’ve got a sprawling setup complete with a Viking range, you can always increase time, space, and efficiency. And that will help you cook better. Having spent a year working in professional kitchens in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris while writing Four Kitchens, I picked up many tricks of the trade that can be applied to any home kitchen.
Here are my favorites:
1. Label Your Leftovers: Organizing prepped ingredients in plastic stackable containers is helpful, but take it one step further and label the the finished product (I like to use painter’s tape) along with the date. Not only will this help you realize if your food is past its prime, but you’ll easily be able to tell that the frozen brown block in the freezer is last Thanksgiving’s turkey gravy and not the cream of mushroom soup you last week.
2. Ditch the Knife Set: I arrived at each job with my fancy knife bag filled to the brim, but in each kitchen I really only used two knives: my eight-inch chef’s knife and my small, inexpensive paring knife. A single well-made, sharp professional knife (mine is a Japanese one from Korin) will beat nearly any set. And it doesn’t take up valuable counter space.
3. Use Everything: In restaurants, wasting food is like throwing away money. So we used every edible scrap, often turning them into our daily staff meal. Likewise, if you’re making a zabaglione at home that uses lots of egg yolks, save the whites so you can make a frittata or a meringue at a later date. Maximize that roast chicken by saving the carcass, adding vegetables and water and making an easy stock which you can then use to make tomorrow’s chicken noodle soup.
4. Cheat with the Salad Bar: If you live alone, menu planning can be hard. Who wants to buy a whole head of broccoli when a recipe calls for only 1/2 cup? Check out your supermarket’s self-serve salad bar for small amounts of pre-cut veggies, nuts, and roast meats, taking only what you need to complete your given recipe. You’ll save room in the fridge and likely a good chunk of change and wasted food.
5. Scale Up: Most restaurants follow recipes based on weight, not volume. Investing in a small kitchen scale (I have an inexpensive Escali Primo version that cost about $25) is a great way to follow pastry recipes to a T, and is extremely helpful if you want to start writing and creating your own recipes, since what one person considers to be a medium-sized tomato might be totally different than the next.
6. Dress for Work: This may seem obvious, but kitchen accidents happen when boiling water drops on bare feet or long, floppy sleeves accidentally catch on fire. Non-skid, closed-toe orthopedic shoes are a must in the professional kitchen, since they protect your feet and their thick, cushioned soles will keep you comfortable while standing for hours at a time. You don’t need pro gear at home, but do make sure your footwear doesn’t slip and please, lose the flip-flops.
7. Sharpen Your Knives Regularly: And no, that doesn’t mean once every few months. Restaurant chefs hone their blades at least every week, and usually every few days. A sharp knife makes food much easier to work with, speeding up your time in the kitchen, and you’re actually less likely to cut yourself with a sharp blade than a dull one.
8. Alphabetize Your Spices: If you regularly waste precious minutes searching for the oregano in the cupboard only to (re) discover you’ve got three half-used jars of cinnamon, you’ll want to organize your spices so you’ll easily be able to spot what you need.
9. Tuck Damp Paper Towels or Dishcloths Under Your Cutting Boards: It’ll prevent them from sliding around the counter, meaning you can safely breeze through your chopping tasks.
10. Use a Scrap Bag or Bowl: Rather than running back and forth from your work station to the garbage bin while trimming your vegetables for a stir-fry, throw all your carrot peels, pepper cores, and chicken fat scraps into a bowl or even a used plastic grocery bag placed next to your cutting board. Then toss it all out at once when you’re done or add to your compost. –Lauren Shockey