For Bon Appetit, by Alyse Whitney.
If you think you hate chopping onions, imagine having to prep gallons of them every day. That is the life of a line cook: slicing, dicing, peeling, deboning, and handling all the mise en place that restaurant kitchens need. Some tasks are more tedious than others — especially when you have to do the same thing for hours upon hours — so cooks must find ways to double down on efficiency without losing their minds. Eight seasoned line cooks shared their most-dreaded tasks, and the tricks that make them faster and easier. Next time you’re staring down at a few pounds of shrimp that need to be deveined for scampi or wondering how to perfect deviled eggs for a crowd, these tips will save you.
Use Cold Water to Devein Shrimp More Easily
Victor Clay has worked at Nobu Dallas for six years and can now prep between 15 and 20 shrimp per minute using two key tricks. "Use kitchen shears to split the back of the shrimp, and then run it under cold water remove the vein," he suggests. "That way you won't have to go back to soak and rinse them afterward. Water loosens the vein and it cuts down the cleaning time dramatically." He also says the line cooks sing "Prep, prep, prep, prep, prep, prep" to the tune of Rihanna's "Work" to pass the time while cleaning, splitting, and pressing shrimp for tempura.
Treat Hard-Boiled Eggs Like Avocados
It's difficult to get the yolk out of a hard-boiled egg perfectly, without leaving a trace behind. But Tanya Buchan of Dudley’s on Short in Lexington, Kentucky does it every time for hundreds of deviled eggs. "Cut a little off the top and bottom of each egg once it's peeled to keep it from rolling off your cutting board. Then gently roll your knife around the egg without cutting through the yolk, like you would pit an avocado," she shares. "This way the yolk stays whole and doesn't get on your knife, and you have a clean egg white to fill." Buchan also suggests pushing egg yolks through a fine mesh sieve or colander to make a lot of filling quickly and smoothly.
Stop Crying Over Onions
"Slice onions directly into cold water to stop the farty smell," Sam Schiffer from di Alba in Los Angeles says. "The stuff that's hurting your eyeballs is gas from inside the cell walls of onions. Five minutes in ice-cold water will draw out all the liquid and gas and keep you from crying. It's great for any type of allium to make it less pungent and taste better raw, especially in salads." A sharp knife helps break fewer cells, so make sure your blade is at its sharpest.
Soak Your Rice for Extra Fluffiness
Don’t just rinse your rice — soak it! Justin Firmignac of Tin Roof Maui in Kahului, Hawaii suggests soaking rice for at least 10 minutes and then straining to help it cook faster. “This can shave off at least 10 minutes of cook time and make it more fluffy,” he says.
Peel Everything Faster
"Peeling your ingredients sometimes takes longer than the actual cooking," Cooper Weber of Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder notes. "For potatoes, cut off the ends so you don't have to peel around the corners. Soak cipollini onions in hot water or lightly roast to easily remove the outer layer. And for garlic, peel an entire head by tossing it between two bowls and shaking vigorously."
Make Your Own Boxed Mixes for Baking
”Make kits the night before with already-measured dry ingredients for baking — it’s like a better version of a boxed mix from the store,” Rocco Romeo of Michael’s in Santa Monica, California suggests. “If it’s in containers ready to go, you can just grab and combine with your dairy and eggs. Breaking prep into more than one day is less stressful. I like to do it for biscuits.”
Keep Your Artichokes From Browning
Cleaning artichokes is a tedious process, so Chayse Smith from Cindy’s in Chicago sets up an assembly line. “Each line cook takes off the tops, peels them, and then turns them in acidulated water. Dissolve some citric acid in your water to prevent artichokes from browning — without wasting lemons,” he explains. But there’s one more secret: “The most important tool for the job is old-school Tupac playing on the speaker.”
Poach Eggs Ahead of Time
Having a brunch party? Poach a dozen eggs ahead of time. “After you poach a few eggs at a time in salted water, drain, cool in ice water, and then store them in water in the fridge,” Curran Leeds of Brickwall Tavern in Asbury Park, New Jersey says. “Drop them in hot water for a minute to come to temperature when you’re ready to serve — they should just warm through and not overcook.”
Prep some shrimp and let them hang out with pimento grits:
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