Essential Kitchen Skills

Picture a busy home kitchen. Did you think of a messy counter, splatter on the stove top, and a pile of pots in the sink? Maybe a flustered cook trying to stop everything from burning? Is that flustered cook you? It doesn’t have to be that way!

In my 25 years of cooking, there is something I learned early on. I liked doing dishes. Yes, it’s true. There’s something about turning off my brain and going to town lathering, scrubbing, and rinsing the pileup in the sink. It’s like a spa for my hands. However, after living in a few places with tiny sinks, my post meal manis weren’t as enjoyable as they used to be. It became… a chore, gasp.

Rather than letting all the dirty bowls and pans build up to some mountainous task after eating, I started cleaning while I cooked. I know they don’t give out the Nobel prize for information like this and it’s not a new concept, but you’d be surprised how few people do this.

So how would you go about doing this? It’s in the title duh, just clean while you cook, it’s easy. What? Still don’t get it? OK, here are some tips and pointers that you can use with this newfound power.

  • Keep a clean towel handy, you want to keep your hands clean/dry between rinses.
  • Use as much of your cutting board surface as possible.
  • If you run out of space on your board, use a plate, or bowl, to keep the prepared ingredients.
  • Believe it or not, using more plates / bowls is better than less. Think about it, you put some chopped onions or garlic in a bowl, it’s clean again with a quick wipe and rinse.
  • As soon as you’re done with a utensil or container, put it in the sink and blast it with some water.
  • Use your sink for more than holding dishes. Brush any scraps into the sink then sort it out later. Hopefully before you use soap in there so you can save them for something else.
  • Prepare ingredients from cleanest to messiest. You want to prep things that leave less residue to most. Do stuff like carrots/onions first because you can just run your knife under water, but starchy potatoes can wait until later because it takes more effort to wipe off. Then of course, any meat/poultry/fish would go last.
Cut vegetables like carrots first and tomatoes last.

Unless it’s a risotto or a very involved stir fry, there are many pockets of time to use for cleaning. Waiting for the oven to preheat, water to boil, pan to come to temperature, stuff to brown, etc. If you followed my tips, you can use these pockets of time to clean in between steps of your recipe.

Finished using your knife? Run it under water, quickly soap it with a sponge, rinse, and it’s on your dish rack in less than 10 seconds. Sweating mirepoix? Wash the bowl those veg just came from, carrots and celery don’t leave much residue, the onion bowl might need an extra wipe. Give your board and bowl a proper waste while browning meat.

You make more time for cleaning re-organising your cooking process. Many recipes want you to preheat your oven at the start, or get your pasta water started early. Don’t. Leave that until you’re halfway or near finished preparing your ingredients, This adds to overall cooking time but it reduces the amount of time you need to clean.

This is how I handle my cooking / cleaning process and it has resulted in many, many, clean kitchens while our meals are cooking. It is less of a chore, and I actually save a lot of time, I can enjoy my time with my family after eating, versus thinking about the dishes that need to be done.