What are the best hacks for optimising speed and flavour, and minimising waste?
If you’ve ever fallen down a rabbit hole watching YouTube or Instagram, you’ll know there’s a big, bad world of kitchen hacks (otherwise known as tips) lurking in the depths of the internet. While some will waste your time and ingredients (hello, melted gummy bear jelly), others can make you a more efficient cook.
Ingredient prep is a good place to start, something in which Ixta Belfrage, recipe developer for Yotam Ottolenghi and co-author of the new Ottolenghi Flavour (out in September), is well-versed. To remove garlic skins, Belfrage usually crushes the cloves with the flat of a knife, but, when faced with a lot to do, she turns to the microwave: “Put in a whole bulb for about five seconds and the skin will come off really easily,” she says. She then blitzes it with onion in a food processor and cooks: “People fry onion and then add garlic, but I fry them at the same time, starting on a low flame, which saves time.” This sentiment is echoed by Amy and Emily Chung, AKA the Rangoon Sisters, who fry in bulk, then freeze in portions, for future curries, stews, quiches and focaccia toppings.
Peeling ginger with a teaspoon is another nifty trick to have in your arsenal, and one adopted by food writer Rosie Birkett. The author of The Joyful Home Cook also notes the importance of tools, from investing in a decent peeler to making full use of the slicing blade on your food processor – simple, maybe, but shredded salads and coleslaws will never be easier.
No odd or sod should be left behind when cooking. Spatchcocked chicken is a staple round Belfrage’s house, and, while the cut-out backbone is always good for stock, it’s also the perfect bedfellow for spuds: “I roast it with boiled potatoes [you’ll need to add oil or butter] and they become chicken-fat potatoes.”
Your freezer is a great ally in the quest to reduce waste, too. Ravinder Bhogal, chef and author of the just-published Jikoni: Proudly Inauthentic Recipes from an Immigrant Kitchen, stashes broccoli and cauliflower stems for gratins and pasta bakes, and buys fresh curry leaves in bulk to freeze: “This preserves their beautiful, fragrant flavour – never bother with dried; they taste of nothing.”
Lockdown taught us that having sauces thatcan elevate a multitude of dishes – roast veg, salads, meat, fish and for Birkett, that usually means romesco: “You don’t need to use almonds; I didn’t have enough, so I substituted them with pumpkin seeds.” She toasts the nuts and seeds in a frying pan with whole garlic cloves, then whizzes in a food processor with jarred roasted red peppers, smoked paprika, cayenne, olive oil, salt, vinegar and a splash of the juice from the pepper jar.
Finally, Belfrage has an amazing hack with a Chinese egg custard made in the microwave. “I saw it done by a New York chef over lockdown, and it’s ridiculously easy, – just water, egg and salt. Whisk, cover with a plate, pop in the microwave and the result is an incredibly silky-smooth egg custard.” Just add soy sauce and chopped spring onions. Now, who has a microwave I can borrow?