Sometimes I take for granted how much I love to cook and the skill level at which I do it. After all, making dinner isn’t just feeding my family, but also my work. I also sometimes take for granted that shopping for food, finding just the right ingredients (in NYC, no less) and mastering technique is part of my profession. While I do hope that my writing and recipes help spark a love of cooking—making meals is much more fun that way—I know that you’re likely cooking under very different circumstances than I am.
I always take that into account with the recipes I develop, but I also want to highlight moments in the cooking process where you can move faster and more efficiently without sacrificing the food, your health or the joy of cooking, which I forever hope that you’ll find. (A girl can hope, yea?) I won’t say that my tips are about “technique” because, well, some, like today’s lightening quick method for “chopping” garlic, are actually about ditching proper technique.
I can hear the food folks gasping now. I know. I even understand. But let’s get real, foodies, not everyone wants to spend their very limited free time making duck confit. And sometimes, a strategic cheat can make the difference between someone cooking for their family or not. Given that family dinner can make your children healthier, I think that’s a big deal.
So here’s my first tip. It’s going to seem like a no-brainer (most of my tips probably will), but if you haven’t done this before it will be a revelation:
Use a microplane to “chop” garlic.
I first saw Rachel Ray do this. I don’t watch her often, maybe it’s a signature move? If so, it’s a damn smart one. It turns a task that takes several precious after-work minutes into a 2 second prep.
Here’s the thing: I, personally, don’t think that this is good for every dish, rather the ones where garlic will be very well integrated in texture and taste. Things like meatballs or meat loaf, a simmer sauce, a saucy pasta dish, soup and the like. If you’re making meal in which the texture of the garlic is a core part of the dish or where you want a more mellow garlic flavor, I’d take the time to chop.
See, grating the garlic with a microplane, or even pushing it through most garlic presses, is said to rupture the clove’s cell wall which releases a relatively bitter oil and creates an “aggressive” flavor. I realize that this may sound like food snobery, so try it out for yourself. Short of an official Alton Brown explanation, all I can report is that I truly detect a harsher flavor when using microplaned garlic over carefully chopped in a delicate dish. But, of course, it’s your call to make. (And probably depends on how much time you have. Oh, I know!)
Be on the lookout for more best “Tips for the Family Cook” and, in the meantime, what’s your favorite tip?