Despite the leaps and bounds we've made in convenient lunch and dinner technology, like authentic Italian frozen pizza and more nutrient-packed boxed mac and cheese, sometimes we just want a home-cooked meal. Unfortunately, this requires recipe research, and meal prep, and, if you're lucky, an organized, fully-stocked kitchen—all the things that take time, which most of us just don't have.
Which is why we tapped six professional chefs for the must-have convenient cooking tools they can't live without. If anyone knows about whipping up restaurant-quality meals on a time crunch, it's them. So, put the frozen potstickers and instant noodles away—you can cook up a fresh, savory meal in under a half hour, we promise. Scroll to find out how.
Chef-approved convenient cooking tools you need ASAP
A good sauce
Award-winning chef Ji Hye Kim, owner of Miss Kim in Ann Arbor, Michigan and James Beard Award Best Chef semifinalist, says you should always have a good sauce or two (or 10…) handy. Olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, miso, gochujang—these should be staples in your pantry
“The time and effort that goes into a good dish is already in that sauce. Sauté some vegetables in a good sauce with rice and egg and you’re good to go,” she says. “I personally love a bag of spinach sautéd with mushrooms, garlic, and soy sauce. It takes less time than microwaving a meal most of the time!”
Same goes with a good, savory stock: “I usually have anchovy or chicken stock on hand. Heat up the stock with soy sauce and garlic, cook pasta or noodle, top with leftover meat, chili oil, a hardboiled egg, and you have instant ramen!”
Joshua Resnick, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, recommends shopping mindfully so you have quick, healthy options ready to go.
“When you’re in a time crunch, it’s great to have canned beans on hand as they are hearty, provide protein, and extremely versatile. Black beans can be used in salad, on nachos and in rice, while garbanzo beans can be blended into hummus, used in salads and pastas or added to a sauce” Resnick says. “I always have frozen shrimp in my freezer—they are fast to defrost, cook quickly, and can be used in many ways, like pan seared on top of a bed of greens, added to pasta or blended to make shrimp burgers.”
An immersion blender
Kim is also a big fan of a quality stick blender. “You can mince garlic easily, make pesto, juice—it’s a total time saver!”
You can spend hundreds of dollars on an immersion blender, or you can get this affordable tool on Amazon. For $25, Mueller’s stick blender will froth, blend, and whisk whatever it is you’re whipping up in seconds. It’s powered by a 500 Watt motor and features nine different speeds.
A quality roasting pan
In a pinch? Odette Williams, Brooklyn-based Australian cook and writer of the awarded cookbook, Simple Cake ($14) ,says a good meal awaits at your local grocery store. “Pick up a great rotisserie chicken and gorgeous baguette,” she says. “Then, make homemade creamy mashed potatoes, or herbed roasted potatoes. Serve it all with a simple arugula salad and some good oil and vinegar at the table—done!”
Easy peasy, right? If you do want to roast up some chicken (which doesn’t take long, BTW), she recommends investing in a premium roasting pan. “Roasting veggies, slow-cooked meats, baked pastas, anything with filo or puff pastry sweet or savory, is at your fingertips,” Williams says. “I bought my mum the Le Creuset [pan]. Worth the splurge. “
A digital scale
Another easy, relatively affordable gadget to always have handy? A digital scale, like this one from Sur La Table. “They take all the guess work out and make measuring cups redundant,” Williams says. This scale makes measuring simple, and when you’re done, its sleek, slim frame fits neatly in drawers or underneath other tools, making storage a breeze, too.
A mandoline slicer
Both Greg Baxtrom, award-winning chef-owner of acclaimed restaurants Olmsted, Maison Yaki, and Patti Ann’s Family Restaurant and Bakery, and Thomas Lim, culinary director for Wish You Were Here Group, agree that a mandoline can save you time in the prep arena. This $45 mandoline slicer by OXO has sharp stainless steel blades you can adjust into four different thickness settings that cut seamlessly through even the hardiest veggies.
“I recommend making a version of the Summer Squash Som Tum Salad we serve at Olmsted for something that is quick, hearty, and tasty,” says Baxtrom. “As long as you have a mandolin tool with a tooth attachment, you can get creative with the ingredients and take the salad in several directions. Some notable people I have had the pleasure of cooking for have enjoyed adding in not-so-traditional ingredients like orange and basil.”
In addition to a mandoline, Lim also recommends a Magic Bullet (for quick, easy blends), a Microplane (for zesting and grating) and sleek, organized Prepdeck, which will have you waving goodbye to disorganized prep and cooking for good.
This Shark Tank gadget features everything you need to chop, grate, peel, zest, and prepare your favorite meals. Everything is exactly where it should be, making clean up that much easier. (There’s even a convenient scrap bin for keeping your cutting board clean.) It’s a game-changer, regardless of your cooking ability.
A premium knife
Almost all of the chefs, including Divya Alter, founder of Divya’s Kitchen in New York City, agrees that a sharp, quality chef’s knife can cut down on cooking time tenfold.
“I’m not a fan of collecting single-purpose gadgets that fulfill the role of a sharp knife,” Alter says. “I don’t like cluttering my kitchen with garlic choppers, mango and avocado slicers, etc. Rather, I’d suggested investing in a good quality chef’s knife and taking a knife skills class. Both will stay with you for life.
From there, she recommends planning your meals ahead of time, prepping veggies up to 12 hours before using them, and making staples, like ghee or spice blends, once a month to have handy. “For a 15-minute meal fix, choose quick-cooking vegetables that do not need peeling, such as zucchini, asparagus, fennel, cabbage, leafy greens, green beans, cauliflower, or broccoli. You can have these pre-chopped,” Alter says. Noted.
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