Before you read this, check out Part 1: Prep Work.
Once you’re prepared to start the cooking process, a key factor in getting in and out of the kitchen more quickly is timing. It’s all about timing. Before any of your food touches heat, you should have already thought about what needs to cook first.
Time-Intensive Tasks go First
Before you start cooking, think about what is going to take the longest to prepare. You don’t necessarily have to wait to get your mis an place ready to start the cooking process. Need a pot of boiling water? Caramelized onions? Start that process before your prep work is complete so that by the time you’re ready for them, they’re ready for you.
Most of you are home cooks like me, so here’s an example. Caramelized onions can take up to 45-60 minutes to cook properly. If you’re in the middle of another task at home, stop what you’re doing and get the onions going before you even start prepping for the meal.
Rather than cooking the meal in order of dish by dish, break down the tasks for each dish in order of what takes the longest to cook.
Cut Food Into Smaller Pieces
This may be a no-brainer to you but I’m surprised at how many cooks don’t think through this. I’m specifically referring to meat here, but this concept applies to most types of food. Instead of sautéing a whole chicken breast, for example, cut it up into large, bite-size pieces. This will cook faster, which means your chicken will be juicier than if you were to cook the whole breast at once (usually).
When people see me flip my food in a skillet, they may think that I’m trying to show off, but that’s not the case. Especially when using a non-stick skillet, flipping your food allows you to move more quickly as you’re multitasking in the kitchen. It doesn’t require any utensils either, which ups your speed substantially, and it also helps everything in the pan cook more evenly. Using a spatula can sometimes take twice as long and can sometimes bruise or mush the food together.
If you’re not sure how to flip food, check out Simply Ming’s sweet little video here.
Cook Quickly, on High Heat
The majority of food you’ll probably come in contact with a daily basis can and should be cooked quickly on high heat. This is a big generalization of course, but I think that most meats and veggies taste and look better when they’re cooked quickly. By cooking the crap out of your veggies, for example, you lose more and more nutritional value. By cooking it quickly, you’ll also retain the original flavors of the food. I’m not sure why I see so many home cooks get in this habit of cooking things on low heat (with a spatula).
Obviously, certain meats and other foods need the low heat to break down connective tissue and fat, but most food doesn’t.
For example, a go-to I-don’t-know-what-else-to-cook meal at the end of a long day is a pan full of sautéed veggies with some kind of cut up meat and maybe rice underneath if it I’m really hungry. I can be out of the kitchen in less than 10 minutes with this meal by cooking the meat and veggies quickly on high heat.
Quick tip: If you’re cooking something in a saute pan on high heat and you’re seeing that it’s smoking or the pan is too dry, either add a splash of water, stock or oil to disperse the heat. I do this regularly.
Technically, using a slow cooker could take all day. This is not a Get-In-And-Out kind of method, but slow cookers take the pressure off of your meal by taking care of the main course with very little effort. By taking your attention off of the main course, you can now focus on the rest of the meal preparation. This works especially well if you’re cooking for a family or party.
A great example of how to use a slow cooker with these other methods I’ve mentioned? Throw a pork loin, chopped onions and stock in a slow cooker in the morning. By dinner, it’ll fall apart by just looking at it wrong. The only thing you’ve got to take care of are the side dishes. Cube a potato, toss with olive oil and spices, lay out on a cookie sheet, cook at 450 for maybe 15 minutes and you’re done. While that’s cooking, saute a pan-ful of your favorite veggies. In and out of the kitchen within 30 minutes.
Beginning with the end in mind, as the late Stephen Covey taught us, you may want to consider making double of what you need for another upcoming meal or leftovers for the next day. This will not necessarily contribute to your fast cooking skills, but will save you time the next time you need to eat.
For example, if I’m making rice, I almost always make 2-3 extra portions. Using cold rice in leftover Asian dishes is perfect!