Mark Bittman: 19 Ways to Cook Everything Faster

A famous cookbook author has come up with the most efficient kitchen routine ever, and shares a speedy chicken parm recipe you can get on the table in minutes.

By Mark Bittman adapted from How to Cook Everything Fast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine September 2014

italian ingredientsTravis Rathbone for Reader’s Digest

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

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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!)

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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).

13. 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.

14. Use frozen vegetables in soups—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.

15. 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.

16. If you’ve forgotten to let butter soften, melt it in the microwave; then use a brush to apply it to bread for a more even coating.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

BITTMAN’S FASTEST CHICKEN PARM

Speedy: 30 minutes. Serves: 4.

Brilliant! Bittman’s new book folds prep instructions (here, in bold) into the cooking process so you won’t waste a minute. In his version of chicken parm, instead of dredging and panfrying, you’ll stack ingredients on a baking sheet and broil.

INGREDIENTS
5 tbs. olive oil
3 medium ripe tomatoes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lbs.)
salt and pepper
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
2 oz. Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup grated)
1 cup bread crumbs
1 bunch fresh basil

PREP | COOK
1. Turn broiler to high; put rack 6 inches from heat. Pour 2 tbs. olive oil onto rimmed baking sheet and spread it around; put baking sheet in broiler.

• Core and slice tomatoes.

• Cut chicken breasts in half horizontally to make 2 thin cutlets from each breast. Press down on each with heel of hand to flatten.

2. Carefully remove baking sheet from broiler. Put chicken cutlets on sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with tomatoes; broil on one side only until chicken is no longer pink in center, rotating pan if necessary for even cooking, 5 to 10 minutes.

• Grate mozzarella and Parmesan.

• Combine bread crumbs, mozzarella, and Parmesan in small bowl.

• Strip 16 to 20 basil leaves from stems.

3. When chicken is cooked through, remove baking sheet from broiler. Lay basil leaves on top of tomatoes, sprinkle with bread crumb-and-cheese mixture, and drizzle with remaining olive oil.

4. Return sheet to broiler; cook until bread crumbs and cheese are browned and bubbly, 2 to 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

EVEN FASTER: Use about 2 cups tomato sauce instead of sliced tomatoes.

Mark Bittman writes for the New York Times and has penned several bestselling cookbooks. His newest book, How to Cook Everything Fast, goes on sale October 7.