Simple Tricks to Become a Faster Cook

Cookbook author Mark Bittman shares his best tips for whipping up dinner in record time—without sacrificing taste.

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Ways to cook everything faster - Pot with boiling water
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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.

2 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Cutting rosemary
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Don’t dirty an extra dish

Use kitchen scissors to chop cooked or tender raw vegetables (especially greens) right in the bowl or pan.

Find out which foods you’re spoiling by storing in the fridge.

3 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Washing vegetables in colander
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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.

These grocery store secrets from the produce section will change the way you shop.

4 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Mincing garlic
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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.

Here’s the real difference between herbs and spices.

5 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Cutting chicken
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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.

Find out why you should never wash chicken before cooking it.

6 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Shredding vegetables
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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.

Psst—here’s how to grate cheese so nothing sticks to the box grater.

7 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Steaming vegetables
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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.

Discover 20 microwave tricks that will change the way you cook!

8 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Braised meat
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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.

Check out these quick fixes for common cooking mistakes.

9 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Baguette sandwich
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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!)

Intimidated by homemade bread? Don’t be! These easy bread recipes are perfect for beginners.

10 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Core apple
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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.

Here are more clever kitchen hacks you’ll want to try.

11 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Shredded beet salad
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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.

Put these organic groceries at the top of your shopping list—they’re well worth the extra money.

12 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Brussels sprouts
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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).

Make sure you avoid these common kitchen appliance mistakes.

13 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Summer soup
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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.

Take inspiration from these easy, breezy summer soup recipes.

14 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Frozen vegetables
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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.

Here’s how long you can really freeze food.

15 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Preheat oven
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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.

Save even more time with these brilliant cooking shortcuts.

16 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Microwave butter
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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.

Find out why Canadian butter isn’t as soft as it used to be.

17 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Meatballs
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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.

Check out the trick for peeling potatoes that’s taking over the Internet.

18 / 19
Ways to cook everything faster - Cabbage rolls
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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.

Make sure to avoid these cooking mistakes that ruin your food.

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Ways to cook everything faster - Lasagna
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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.

Next, check out 10 delicious dinner recipes that cook in 10 minutes (or less).

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest