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Picking up speed in the kitchen?

Any tips or tricks you've picked up along the way...that have significantly increased your speed in the kitchen?

I am a very slow cook and would like to get faster. Sometimes I just get overwhelmed, though, by the multi-tasking and have to limit it to two things at a time...or I get perfectionistic about chopping. Too many items on the counter and I can't think straight... Or can't remember what's next.

Anyway with line cook experience perhaps have any insight?

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  1. Sorry..."Anyone with line cook experience..."

    1. A line cook makes the same few things 100's of times a week. My advice is to make the same things over and over. Make muffins every Sunday morning, you will be able to do it in your sleep, without a recipe. Make pizza every Friday, you will be comfortable to do it with an audience. Make little changes and learn what makes a difference, what you like. Not using a recipe is much faster once you know what your doing.

      Also, develop good habits. Keep your cupboards neat, even if that means paring down how much stuff is in them. Start with a clean kitchen, and clean up as you go. If you're doing a big complicated dinner, make a list of what to do in what order.

      1. Make sure you have all the ingredients and equipment ready before you cook.
        Clear enough space on the counter and in the fridge.
        Clean as you go.

        2 Replies
        1. re: iluvcookies

          Absolutely. When I first started to learn Asian cooking, about 30+ years ago, I found I had to have every thing prepped and ready. No stopping to measure out a tsp. of fish sauce or a half cup of something, it is what you will hear chefs and cooks call mise. French for mise en place, everything chopped, measured etc. It made me a much better and faster cook.

          1. re: Candy

            Oh my gosh, definitely true in Asian cooking! A minute or even less can be the difference between perfect and crap. Mise en place made me so much better.

        2. Have you ever taken a knife skills class? Years ago, I took one at a professional cooking school near me and it really helped me to increase my prep speed.

          And the whole "mise en place" thing really works. I find if I prep everything first before I start cooking, everything stays pretty tidy and I don't have a lot of cleanup at the end. On the other hand, when I do things my normal, impatient way (e.g. chop the onions, put in pan, start chopping the next thing, etc.), I end up with stuff everywhere.

          4 Replies
          1. re: stockholm28

            Mise en place times a million :) When I do it, I'm (relatively) assured of success.

            1. re: c oliver

              I'm also a mise en place convert. But. But also look for dead times to schedule other activities. You know how long it takes to boil water for pasta, for example. Use that time to chop the onions you've already pulled out, mix the seasonings, etc. Also, schedule some simple finishing tasks like slicing tomatoes and spinning the lettuce for any time when your meat is supposed to be resting. Not only will this speed your total time, it'll make sure you're not staring at that delicious meat wondering "Can I slice it now? How about now? OK, 1,2,3 now?"

              1. re: nokitchen

                I agree with this. I have a pretty good idea of dead times that will be available and use those intervals to chop. However, I always get spices and other seasonings ready before I start cooking. Mine aren't as organized as they should be so I pull out everything I'm going to need before I start cooking and measure amounts.

            2. re: stockholm28

              +1 on the knife skills and mise en place. Prep is usually the slowest part of food prep. It's why many professional kitchens have prep cooks who do no cooking at all - just cutting and prepping.

              The other thing I'd recommend is learning more about the food itself. Having more than one cooking style for different foods affects speed as well.

              Oh, and if deep flavors in a short time are truly desired, take some classes on cooking with pressure cookers. They're incredible devices but hard to learn to use well on your own.

            3. I've never had restaurant experience, just decades of home cooking. My onion seminar herewith:

              Prepping and sweating onions is often the most time-consuming part of entree creation. So, when onions are on sale, buy a 5# or larger bag and devote a few hours to a one-time prep session. Chill the onions or soak them in very cold water first. If they're cold, they won't make you cry. Peel them. Chop some, dice some, slice some. Put them in freezer bags in amounts you typically use, and freeze them.
              Because freezing ruptures cell walls, they will cook faster from frozen than fresh. No need to defrost.

              If you have more time and more onions, saute several pounds of sliced onions in a 4qt pan. Remove and freeze some when they're golden. Keep going with the rest until they are caramelized, then freeze those too. Because of the fat, the cooked onions won't freeze super-solid. If you only need a little, you'll easily pry some off the frozen mass with a fork.

              7 Replies
              1. re: greygarious

                Gotta give a shout out "yes!" to this. Freezing raw, already chopped onions has helped me so, with week night cooking.

                And you don't need to pry them off with a fork. Freeze them in a zip lock bag and when you need them, just throw them on a hard surface to break up the ice, then pour or scoop out the amount you need - from a tablespoon to a cups.

                Oddly enough, this method also worlds with grated cheese.

                1. re: happybaker

                  after chopping/dicing, spread them on a sheet pan to freeze, then bag them. this way the pieces stay separate and you can easily shake out what you need.

                2. re: greygarious

                  This is a great tip thanks for sharing!

                  1. re: greygarious

                    I'm going to try this.
                    I usually sauté or caramelize onion and freeze, but I've never done it with raw.

                    Although I had an onion breakthrough recently....how to get "carmelized" tasting onions without oil!

                    1. re: cheesecake17

                      Just be prepared for the "oh, geez, this doesn't work!" phase when the frozen/now thawing onions release way too much water. You'll be sure to think we were all nuts suggesting it. Hang in there, let the water cook out, and the onions will indeed proceed nicely.

                      And how do you get that carmelized taste without oil?

                      1. re: pine time

                        I'm going to try it when onions are on sale.

                        Fake carmelized onions
                        I use large Spanish onions, peeled.
                        Slice almost all the way through the onion, but leave it intact
                        Put onions in a large stockpot, and fill with water
                        Bring to a boil and cook till onions are separating and soft- maybe 1 hr.
                        Drain, separate layers.
                        In a large roasting pan, toss onion pieces (I cut the pieces) with a little cooking spray and salt
                        Roast at 400 till soft and browned, stirring once in a while

                        1. re: cheesecake17

                          you can skip the boiling step entirely and just cook the onions in a low oven for a long time. you'll get far better flavor this way.