19 Simple Ways to Cook Everything Faster
Cookbook author Mark Bittman shares his best tips for whipping up dinner in record time—without sacrificing taste.
Start with heat
Before doing anything else, turn on the oven, crank up the broiler, preheat a skillet, and set water to boil. Appliances, pots, pans, and water take time to get hot. Boiling water is always my first move.
Don't dirty an extra dish
Use kitchen scissors to chop cooked or tender raw vegetables (especially greens) right in the bowl or pan.
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Speed up your washing time
Put all the produce together in a colander and rinse under cold water. (If you have a large amount, wash in batches, putting what’s done on towels.) During downtime while cooking, wash vegetables used toward the end of a recipe. Rinse foods like carrots and cabbage after they’ve been trimmed or peeled.
Chop all at once
If a recipe calls for minced garlic, minced ginger, and/or minced chiles at the same time, consolidate the job with my go-to technique: Peel the garlic and ginger, trim the chiles, and put them all in a pile. Then chop and mince them together using a rocking motion.
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Cut before cooking
Big, thick pieces of food take longer to cook through than those cut small or sliced thin. I cut chicken cutlets in half so they cook faster; chop veggies accordingly.
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Make use of your grater
Making a pureed vegetable soup? Grate your veggies instead of chopping them. If you cut them into chunks, they’ll take 20 minutes or more to soften. But grated, they’re ready in a flash.
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Let your pots do double duty
When you sauté or simmer something moist—such as vegetables, beans, or sauces—lay a different food on top (especially a protein like fish, chicken, or eggs), cover with a lid, and let the steam naturally cook that upper layer. For instance, for a fast eggs Florentine, steam the eggs on top of the spinach rather than poaching them separately.
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Use less liquid when braising
Submerge your braising ingredients in about one inch of liquid, cover the pot, and cook, turning occasionally, adding a little liquid as necessary.
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One sandwich is faster than four
Cut a baguette in half the long way, assemble one giant sandwich, then cut that into as many pieces as you like. (I’ve seen people do the opposite!)
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Cut around the core
This method is a fast way to prep apples, pears, tomatoes, cabbage, peaches, and bell peppers: Slice downward around the core, removing flesh in three or four pieces; then cut flesh into slices or wedges.
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Serve up raw vegetables
Instead of roasting winter veggies, eat them raw. Squash, beets, parsnips, and celery root make great salads and slaws. Since root vegetables are sturdy, grate them. If they’re still too crispy for comfort, marinate them for a half hour or longer in a vinaigrette.
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Prep Brussels sprouts in the food processor
The machine does the job in a few pulses, and the small pieces will broil in about half the time. Plus, you get more of the delicious crispy bits that I can’t get enough of (just ask my daughters).
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Whip up a summer soup
Some soups need to simmer for hours, but cold soups, such as gazpacho, involve simply putting ingredients in a blender and turning it on. So underrated.
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Use frozen vegetables
They work well in soup or any dish. Minimally processed and chilled immediately after harvest, frozen vegetables are an anomaly in the frozen-food aisle—a true gift to hurried cooks. I always keep frozen peas and corn on hand.
Don't wait around for a preheated oven
Unless you're baking—or roasting something that requires an initial blast of very high heat—you don’t have to wait for the oven to reach its set temperature before putting in the food. Veggies and slow-roasted or braised meat work well this way. Speed things up even more by taking advantage of these foods you never realized you could microwave.
Leave the butter in the fridge
If you've forgotten to let the butter soften, melt it in the microwave; then use a brush to apply it to bread for a more even coating.
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Make meatballs into meat "drops"
When making meatballs, the most time-consuming part is rolling them. The solution? Don’t. Use two spoons to drop little mounds into the hot skillet. They’ll brown beautifully—and taste just as good.
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Make “unstuffed” cabbage
Blanching cabbage leaves to make them pliable is onerous. Use cooked cabbage as a base instead of a wrapper—it’ll provide the same taste with much less work.
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Simplify lasagna night
Trade typical lasagna noodles for egg roll wrappers, which don’t have to be boiled and come in small, easy-to-handle squares. They taste like fresh egg pasta.
Now, make sure to avoid these cooking mistakes that ruin your food.