Posted on January 11 2019
One of the most time-consuming aspects to cooking--whether in a commercial kitchen or at home--is prep-work: chopping up vegetables, making stock, grating cheese and so on. So it’s always a relief when we find ways to make the most frustrating problems of food prep and organization a little easier to tackle with some food hacks. A little knowledge and some key restaurant supplies are all you need to take the annoyance away, and save time.
Plastic wrap, also known as cling film, can be a pain to grapple with--sometimes literally, if your hand or arm catches against the serrated cutting surface attached to most plastic wrap packages. But there is an easier way: store plastic wrap in the fridge or freezer to make it easier to work with. The cold and dry keeps it from sticking to itself and minimizes some of the static, making it easier to get a clean sheet of the material without having to wrestle it into submission. As a bonus trick: if you find that the plastic wrap isn’t adhering properly to the container you’re putting it on, a little bit of water along the edge of the bowl, plate, or other container, and the plastic wrap will cling perfectly.
Another thing that can cause frustration is grating semi-hard cheeses, like dry mozzarella, cheddar, gouda, or fontina; the high fat content of these cheeses can make them fall apart as you grate, and also tends to get them stuck against the grater. A simple way around this is to put such cheeses into the freezer for about 30 minutes before attempting to grate them; the frigid temperatures firm the fats and water in the cheese up more, making grating a much smoother, faster experience.
Almost everyone loves at least a little garlic in their savory dishes; but peeling cloves of garlic can be a time-consuming process. Thankfully, there are a few different ways to make the process go faster. You may already be familiar with the “shaking” trick, but it is still one of the best: put unpeeled garlic cloves either in a jar that has a lid, or in a metal or ceramic bowl, cover (with another bowl, in the case of using bowls), and shake vigorously for about a minute. The collisions and friction of the cloves against each other and against the surfaces of the jar or bowl knock the skins off. Another trick though is just as easy and quick: make a tube out of a silicone mat, and hold it sideways as you put the cloves of garlic in. Place the tube down on a flat surface--such as a cutting board--and press down gently while rolling back and forth. The silicone grips the skins and tugs them lose, and the movement pulls them away from the garlic cloves. The tube shape the silicone mat is wrapped into ejects the skins from either side, leaving clean, peeled garlic.
The freezer can play a role in helping prep meat for super-thin slices, as well as keeping plastic wrap from clinging to itself: for ease in getting thin slices of meat--or also getting even, consistent chunks of fattier cuts like pork belly or bacon--throw the meat into the freezer for about thirty to forty-five minutes, depending on size. The water in the meat will begin to freeze, firming it up and making fine, precise slicing easier and faster to achieve; this method is great for getting lardons of bacon or salt-pork for a variety of dishes, as well as getting the perfect thickness for beef preparations like carpaccio, or minute steak.
One final tip, perfect for home cooks: make red wine taste better by putting it in the blender. It sounds strange, but Alton Brown discovered that processing cheap red wine in a blender for 30 seconds on high made it taste remarkably better. The finding makes sense: well-aired red wines in general taste better than fresh out of the bottle, and the blast from the blender does an excellent job thoroughly incorporating air into the wine.
With a few key restaurant supplies, a little forethought, and the knowledge that you’ve gained from this article, kitchen prep work doesn’t have to be the pain that it often turns out to be; instead, you’ll be able to devote more time to the more interesting parts of cooking a dish or an entire meal.