7 Surprising Cooking Hacks That Save Time

by Christa Avampato on 11 June 2014 1 comment

We all need to find ways to save time, if for no other reason than we need adequate time to rest and relax. Food prep can take up a significant amount of time, and if we've had a long day, we're likely to order take-out or grab food that's quick, easy, and less-than-nutritious. Here are seven surprising cooking hacks that will keep our tummies satisfied while saving time. (See also: 6 "As Seen on TV Kitchen" Gadgets That Are Actually Worth the Money)

1. Cook From Frozen

When it come to frozen ingredients — meat, veggies, fruits — don't bother defrosting before cooking. Fish? You bet (and any way you like — grilled, steamed, roasted, sauteed…). Steaks and chops? Absolutely! In fact, you'll be dabbling in the dark arts of molecular gastronomy with this method. While this recipe for frozen seared steak calls for freezing a fresh cut for an hour, then searing, you can just as well pull a frozen steak out of the icebox, sear it, then slow cook it in the oven for about an hour (which should give you time to get out of your work clothes and unwind from the day before dinner).

2. The Quickest Way to Perfect Pasta

Boiling a giant pot of water for pasta isn't necessary. Save time, water, and energy with your frying pan. Harold McGee, author of "Keys to Good Cooking," suggests placing the pasta in a frying pan, covering it with about a quart and a half of water, and then cooking until al dente. Next, drain the pasta but save that starchy water at the bottom of the pan; it's the perfect thickener for pasta sauces.

3. No-Fail Crispy Roasted Chicken

The key to making crispy chicken is a very hot, dry oven. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Season the skin with salt and pepper, put it into a pre-heated 500 degree oven, close the door, and bake for 60 minutes (or until a meat thermometer in the thigh reads 165). Don't open the door and don't add anything else to the oven. One hour later you'll have perfectly cooked chicken — crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The extremely hot oven sears the outside, sealing in all of the juices while perfectly crisping the skin.

4. Gourmet Bakery Bread at Home

Do you covet those perfect boules of bread at your corner bakery? I tried many times to replicate them at home with my bread pans to no avail. Then I got a tip from master baker Jim Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery. The trick is a very hot cast iron Dutch oven with a cover.

Preheat the Dutch oven for 30 minutes in a 500 degree oven. It will be extremely hot so carefully remove it from the oven. Place your dough (such as this easy No-Knead dough) in the Dutch oven, replace the cover, and carefully place it back in the oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the cover and continue to bake it for an additional 15 minutes so that the crust turns a deep golden brown. When you take it out, remove it from the Dutch oven and place it on a cooling rack. If you listen closely, you'll hear the bread crackle. This is the sound of the air bubbles in the dough popping to give the inside of the bread a rich, chewy texture.

5. Crock-Pot Desserts

While we turn to our crock-pots for pot roast, soups, and stews, it's also an amazing kitchen tool for warm and decadent desserts that cook while you're preparing and eating dinner without consuming any of your oven space. For example, a crockpot pulls together a chocolate fondue and keeps the chocolate at the perfect temperature while you skewer and dip items like marshmallows, strawberries, and pineapple without any danger of burning the chocolate or having it prematurely harden. The Stir offers these seven sinful crock-pot dessert recipes.

6. An Easy Way to Keep Fresh Grated Ginger On-Hand

Ginger is one of my favorite spices. I use it in stir-fries, sauces, smoothies, and to season rice. I used to just toss it in my vegetable drawer and deal with the fact that I would probably not use it all before it went south. Then I learned that freezing ginger right away makes it easy to peel and grate.

Still, I wanted an easy and fast way to toss it into my recipes without peeling and grating it every time I wanted to use some. I found this tip to portion it out and freeze it in teaspoonfuls. The perfect single-use portions keep for six months in an airtight container in the freezer.

7. The Fastest Way to Thaw Meat

If you're determined to thaw before cooking despite the advice above, here's a way to thaw a steak in less than 15 minutes.

For the longest time the USDA and other experts advised against thawing meat, fish, and poultry in hot water. The idea was that doing so would hold the meat in the temperature "danger zone" where bacteria thrive. However, the hot water thawing method is so fast, meats don't spend enough time in the danger zone for bacteria to really bloom.

Hot water from your tap is hot enough. Fill up a stock pot, drop in your plastic wrapped (or ziplocked) meat in the bath, and give it an occasional stir.

The method is great for cuts up to an inch thick. Bigger pieces — like roasts or whole birds — take too long to thaw, and should be thawed the old fashioned way (in the fridge, on the counter, or in cold water).

I hope these surprising and easy tips make mealtime and snack time a snap for you and your family. 

Have any surprising kitchen time-savers you'd like to share? Hurry and add them to comments!

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FrugalCat

Anytime you use a double boiler, boil some eggs in the bottom pot.