Kitchen timesaving tips | Back to basics

 ,  |  Updated: May 23, 2014 10:54 IST

Kitchen timesaving tips | Back to basics

Chefs often have an impressive repertoire of corner-cutting tricks under their caps. You'll wonder why you hadn't thought of these yourself. Try them on this (not quite) cottage pie recipe ...
...and don't forget to add your own timesaving tips below!

One of the challenges facing novice cooks, to paraphrase that great gastronomist Donald Rumsfeld, is that there are so many unknown unknowns. Experienced cooks have an arsenal of shortcuts up their sleeves - tips and tricks they use every day to save time - but these are rarely written down in books or discussed on TV. So you might not even know how many of these unknown unknowns there are to know.

My wife says I have a public duty to write down some of my most useful timesavers, and I always do what she says. Here they are, in no particular order but the order in which I thought of them. I am sure you will have some of your own. If you do, I implore you to take the time to note them down in the online comments at the bottom of this article, so that together we can make all the unknown unknowns known.


• Squeeze your lemons through a sieve to take out the pips.

• Peel ginger with a teaspoon. Try it; you'll see what I mean. It is quicker than using a peeler and there's less waste.

• For other veg, invest in a good peeler. The best ones are, obviously, sharp, with a big gap between the two blades and a head that swivels easily.

• Buy one very, very sharp knife. Maybe Japanese. A large one you can use for everything. It will be expensive, but save up: it will make everything 10 times faster. Tasks that might have reduced you to a sweaty, tearful heap - peeling celeriac, chopping up pumpkin - will be as easy as slicing through butter.

• Minimise kitchen miles. So much time can be wasted walking about. Don't keep trotting over to the bin: keep a bowl next to you for veg scraps, peelings etc. Keep the pans near the cooker, and (ideally) design your kitchen with the sink, fridge and cooker arranged in a triangle so that nothing is ever too far from reach.

• Use a coarse grater or the pulse setting on a food processor to chop veg small - for example the onions, carrots, and celery in the base of your bolognese.

• To peel lots of garlic super-fast, put the bulb/bulbs in a metal bowl, use another metal bowl as a lid, and shake the whole thing vigorously. Martha Stewart does a demonstration of this life-changing technique on YouTube. Maybe they didn't let her have a knife in prison.

• Browning your meat separately before making a stew, chilli, or bolognese (as suggested in the recipe below) is not always necessary. It will still taste delicious - just different - if you leave out that step.

• Wash up as you go: keep surfaces clear and uncluttered.

• Place your chopping board over a damp cloth, to prevent it from moving around when you are chopping/slicing.

• Cook with the washing-up in mind. Ideally, use saucepans that can go in the dishwasher if you have one, and as few as possible. Casseroles and pot roasts are brilliant for minimal clearing-up.

• Read every recipe through before starting, like an exam paper, so you know what steps lie ahead.

• Then stop and think: that is how it has always been done, but do I really need to do it like that? This is how Jane and I came up with this not-quite cottage pie that uses sliced potatoes instead of mash.

Not-quite cottage pie

Preparation: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Serves 4-6
1 tbsp olive oil
500g lean beef mince
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 leek, chopped
400g root veg, peeled- I used carrots, turnip and swede
500ml chicken stock (a cube is fine)
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp Marmite
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
800g potatoes
Salt and pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan on a high heat until very hot. Tip in the minced beef, leave for a minute to brown and stir. Don't stir too much or the meat will boil rather than brown. When the beef is nicely coloured (should take about 5 minutes) remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set to one side.

2 Add the onion and leek to the pan, stir and cook gently over a low heat for 5 minutes until they are soft. Coarsely grate the root veg and add it to the onion and leek. Mix well and cook gently for 5 minutes. Return the meat and its juices to the pan, stir well to combine and season with salt and pepper.

3 Pour in the hot stock with the tomato puree, Marmite, Worcestershire sauce and soy. Simmer all the ingredients together for 10 minutes.

4 While the meat and vegetables are simmering peel (or just scrub) and finely slice the potatoes. Mix them in a bowl with lots of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

5 Transfer the meat and veg to a deep casserole dish. Taste it. Season it if necessary. Top with the sliced potatoes and cover with a lid or foil. Place in the oven for 30 minutes.

6 Remove the lid and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. Check that the potatoes are cooked through with a knife.

7 Serve with peas or purple sprouting broccoli.

Recipe by Jane Baxter

For show offs

Try layering the top with other root veg, such as celeriac or Jerusalem artichokes; just slice finely, and cook for the same amount of time.

What else can you do?

If you want to turn this into shepherd's pie, substitute mashed potato for sliced, and minced lamb for beef.

Henry Dimbleby is cofounder of the natural fast-food restaurant chain Leon (@henry_leon). Get your kids cooking at

Photo: A good, sharp peeler saves time for a busy cook. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian


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