Let's be honest, even getting a weeknight dinner on the table some nights can seem daunting. We all want to prepare delicious and healthy meals for our families, but between after-school activities, work and homework, it's not always a reality. Although there is no magic that will make dinner appear on the table, there are hacks out there that can help you save time and enhance the flavor of your food.
To learn some of these tricks, we consulted chefs around the country who are in the kitchen on a daily basis and have picked up a few tips along the way that can easily translate to the home kitchen. Here are some of our favorites that will ease the stress in the kitchen and hopefully put a more delicious meal on your table in less time.
Heat the oil, heat the pan
Chef Steven Fretz from Top Round Roastbeef with locations in Louisville, Los Angeles and San Francisco, has a simple tip, but one that many people forget. "Always heat your pan before adding oil, and then let that oil heat up before adding whatever you're cooking," he says. He keeps a fry pan on top of the stove so that it's always hot and ready to go. "It's such a simple step that many people neglect, and it saves you a lot of cooking time."
Sear the Meat
Chef Colby Garretts of Rye in Kansas City is a classically trained chef, but he learned one of his best home kitchen tips from the competitive BBQ circuit. He suggests always searing your meat at very high temperatures on the grill before finishing them in the oven at a lower temperature. "This allows the protein to cook evenly at a controlled level but still retain the crispy outside and beautiful char of the grill," he says.
Ask any chef that's worked in a kitchen about mise en place, a French word that loosely translates into having everything in its place. In a professional kitchen, this is key. Chefs always have their vegetables peeled and chopped, their dry ingredients measured and the bowls they need ready to go. This helps them stay organized and it also helps with food safety. Adopting the mise en place philosophy at home can be a huge timesaver. Often times prep work for a recipe is done ahead of time, which means you can chop onions when your kids are asleep and all that's required at dinner time is cooking . Making a list of what you need to do is a really helpful first step to get everything organized. Once you adopt this habit, you'll hopefully see a reduction in stress right around mealtime.
Ingredients at the Ready
Chef James Moran, who runs Juleps catering company in Louisville, KY, likes to keep stock on hand at all times. He makes stock and freezes any leftovers into ice cube trays. That way when he wants to use some he can use as little or as much as he wants at a time. He uses the stock as a base for soup or stew and even to add flavor when he's sautéing vegetables or meat. In addition to stock, he's a big fan of pickling vegetables for later use as a great way to preserve seasonal produce. "It's so easy to take several of these pickled options, lay them out on a platter with fresh cooked meat and lettuce or tortillas for a quick lunch." You can quickly pickle vegetables if you plan to keep the vegetables for a few months as opposed to a year.
Salt is Key
Every home cook knows salt is an important seasoning, although most chefs would argue that we don't use salt liberally enough at home. Chef Zach Walrath of Chicago's Italian restaurant The Florentine uses salt for everything from pasta to dessert. A few of his tips:
- Salting your pasta water adds layers of flavor to the dish. But how salty should it be? Walrath says, "As salty as the sea," so put in a few more pinches.
- One tip that will save time and add flavor is salting your meat overnight before braising. Put it on a cookie sheet and sprinkle it liberally with salt before putting it uncovered in the fridge. The salt will penetrate the meat and add to the overall flavor once you cook it.
- Salt your salad. Your leafy greens don't come seasoned, and a simple vinaigrette will add some flavor, but often not enough. Add a pinch of salt to your lettuce and make the flavors of the vinaigrette and other vegetables really pop.
- This one may seem counterintuitive, but even your sweet things need salt! Add a pinch of it to dessert to make flavors like vanilla, cinnamon and ginger really pop.
Making a few small tweaks to your mealtime routine can result in less stress and more quality time with your family.