Making dinner, especially on weeknights, can be stressful and annoying ― we get it. You’ve just had a full day of work, kids, errands, what have you, and now you need to get a meal on the table before anyone gets hangry. Chefs are pros at making delicious dishes under tight timelines, and they have some timesaving tricks up their sleeves that they’ve graciously shared with us.
Set it and forget it
For delicious roast chicken that’s crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside (sans basting), Shaina Papach, co-owner of The Harvey House in Madison, Wisconsin, sets her oven to a high heat (500 degrees Fahrenheit) and turns it off once the chicken is dark golden brown, leaving the door closed the whole time to allow the chicken to finish cooking all the way through.
“I never baste my roasted chickens,” she said. “I have three kids under 4 years old, and when I am cooking dinner I like to set it and forget it, if I can. It takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the chicken, but this method both cooks and rests the chicken at the same time.”
To make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through, allow it to reach 165 degrees F.
Break out the microplane
You’ve probably used your microplane to zest citrus, but what about grating ginger or garlic? Ann Ziata, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, recommends doing this rather than mincing these ingredients on a cutting board. “Finely grate it right into the dish,” she said. “It will release a lot more flavor in less time than mincing with a knife, and it’s much more efficient than using a garlic press. Plus, when chopping garlic and ginger, so much of the flavor gets absorbed by the cutting board. Skip the board. Use a microplane!”
Plan and prep ahead of time
Having a general idea of what you’ll be eating for dinner and going the extra mile of preparing the ingredients you’ll need will help you get dinner on the table even faster when it’s time to cook.
“On my days off, I plan a menu of healthy, soul-satisfying recipes for the whole week,” said Laurel Almerinda, pastry chef and partner of Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe in Santa Monica, California. “I list the dishes on the kitchen cupboard with a chalk pen, so I remember my plan and what I need to buy at the market. In the few moments while the baby is having her milk or breakfast, I prep a few items into storage containers. When I come home tired and get overwhelmed with baby care, having my veggies washed and cut, or my meat washed and trimmed, or my spices pre-measured, makes dinner possible.”
Make breakfast for dinner
This egg-cellent hack requires a little bit of prep, but when it’s time to cook, all you’ll need is a pot of simmering or slightly boiling water.
“An easy way to make omelets for your family when you’re able to prep ahead of time involves using a Ziploc bag,” said chef Todd Rogers, director of culinary operations at The Pearl Hotel in Rosemary Beach, Florida. “Whip the eggs and add the ingredients you desire, then pour the mix into a Ziploc bag and refrigerate it. When it’s time to cook, just drop the [sealed] bag into simmering or slightly boiling water (about 210-212 degrees Fahrenheit max) until the eggs are firm, about eight minutes or so, depending on the size of the omelet. When it’s done you just cut the bag off the omelet.”
Everyone can have exactly what they want in their omelet, and there’s no mess. This tip also works well for when you’re camping.
Parchment paper is your friend
“Lining your pans before you pop them in the oven is a must at home and at my bakery,” said Kristen Tomlan, founder and CEO of DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections in New York City. “As a busy mom and business owner, I’m all for making cleanup a breeze. I swear by pre-cut parchment sheets because they are perfect for everything from baking cookies to roasting veggies!”
Preheat your oven faster
Forgot to preheat your oven? Tyler Akin, chef and partner of Le Cavalier in Wilmington, Delaware, recommends turning on your broiler for a few minutes first. “With almost any home oven, you will reach your target temperature in a fraction of the time,” he said.
Make more than you need
If you’re going to the trouble of making your own sauce from scratch, make the effort especially worth your while by cooking extra. You’ll thank yourself later. “When you are making a sauce, don’t make it just for that one single meal,” said Andrea Belfiore, chef and founder of Italia Like Locals in New York City. “Make a ton of it and freeze it! You’ll have ready-to-go homemade sauce in your freezer for any occasion.”
(This is a great recipe for freezer tomato sauce.)
Don’t be so picky about picking leaves off your herbs
“I don’t know when it happened, but at some point we all got the idea drilled into our heads that a little bit of parsley stem will ruin your dish beyond repair and make your family hate you,” said Josh Buckwald, executive chef of Employees Only LA and founder of Orso Pasta. “Unlearn this ASAP. If a dish calls for chopped parsley, don’t spend 45 minutes picking a pile of leaves to chop. What we do at EO (and every other restaurant you love), is gently roll the leafy part of the parsley bunch over itself into a little ball, and then pin it down with your non-cutting hand. From there just chop the ball finely until you get to the part of the bunch that’s mostly stems. The technique is very similar to a basil chiffonade for you advanced cooks out there. The result is finely chopped parsley in less than three minutes.”
Harness the speed of the microwave
If you don’t want to wait an hour for your baked potato to cook in the oven, give it a head start in the microwave. “For a quick, easy and deliciously crispy baked potato, start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Amy Brandwein, chef and owner of Centrolina and Piccolina in Washington, D.C. She advises poking holes in the potato with a fork and microwaving it on high for about 7-10 minutes (depending on the size of your potato), and then placing it in the oven for 5-8 minutes to get the skin crispy.
Another method she recommends is microwaving the potato for 7-10 minutes, then letting it cool slightly and breaking it up into big chunks. “Place in a pan with olive oil and sauté on medium-low heat until crispy,” she said. “Top with pesto, caviar and creme fraiche, roasted mushrooms or any other finishing ingredient.”
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