10 Tips to Help You Beat the Clock

1. The supermarket salad bar may seem like an expensive way to buy fresh vegetables, but you're not going to use that much. Sometimes it makes sense to buy already cut bell peppers, onions, celery, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli broken into florets, and cleaned spinach.

2. Also convenient are the increasing numbers of packaged, cut vegetables such as shredded cabbage for coleslaw and trimmed salad greens (usually called a gourmet or mesclun salad mix), and sliced mushrooms.

3. If you have a butcher, either in a supermarket or in a real butcher shop, befriend him or her. Ask the butcher to pound pork tenderloins and chicken breasts, which can be sautéed much more quickly.

4. Even without butchers, there are shortcut options in supermarket meat cases. For example, more convenient than boneless and skinless chicken breasts are chicken tenders, strips of boneless and skinless chicken breast meat ready for cooking in dishes like chicken fajitas or easily cubed for chicken stir fries or chicken curry.

5. Shelled shrimp saves a great deal of time, but cooked shrimp doesn't because shrimp cooks so fast anyway. Besides, reheating cooked shrimp usually overcooks them, making them rubbery.

6. Peeling and cutting one or two large potatoes takes less time than preparing three or four smaller ones. (The same holds true for onions and tomatoes.) To facilitate peeling potatoes, trim off both ends, then peel from the middle to each end all around.

7. The easiest way to peel, then chop or slice an onion is first to cut off a thin slice from the top and bottom. Then halve it lengthwise. The peel from each half comes off easily. With the flat side of the onion half on a cutting board, chop or slice as required.

8. Much of the chopping in my recipes is done in a food processor. The principle technique is to put big chunks of onion or cucumber in the bowl of the processor, then turn the machine on and off in quick bursts, using the pulse bar. This prevents chopped onions from becoming onion slush. The second technique involves adding small ingredients through the chute or feed tube while the motor is running. This enables garlic and chile peppers to be puried more finely than if chopped from a dead start.

9. Always use bigger mixing bowls than you think you need so you can mix quickly without the ingredients spilling over. (A large cooking pot is fine for mixing if you don't have a large bowl.) Once combined, you can transfer the mixture to a smaller serving bowl.

10. Most recipes call for cooking over high heat. This is how restaurant chefs can turn out meals in a hurry. In some cases I instruct the heat to be lowered to avoid burning. Since you can't do this easily on an electric stove, keep one burner on high and another on medium or medium-low (depending on what the recipe calls for). Then switch back and forth from heat sources as needed.

Sam Gugino is a former chef and restaurateur and the author of Cooking to Beat the Clock.


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