In order keep up with the manic pace of a working kitchen, professional cooks have an arsenal of nifty tricks and time-saving techniques at their disposal. While some aren’t necessarily applicable to the home cook, others are so simple and useful, you’ll shake your head that you haven’t been using them all along.
To show us how the dirty work gets done more efficiently—the peeling of garlic, the frying of eggs, the chopping of ridiculous quantities of onions—we enlisted chef Corey Cova, who runs a pint-size doughnut shop called Dough Loco on the far reaches of the Upper East Side.
For the home cook, it’s important to work smart and to keep things manageable—especially if you happen to be drinking.
Cova knows a thing or two about working quickly and sans any unexpected trips to the hospital. Before crafting handmade yeast-raised doughnuts, the C.I.A. graduate cooked at Earl’s Beer & Cheese, ABV, and Momofuku Ssäm Bar—not to mention a U.S. Navy submarine, where working efficiently in tight spaces was the name of the game.
“For the home cook, it’s important to work smart and to keep things manageable,” explains Cova. “Especially if you happen to be drinking,” he adds. The chef says he learned most of the techniques demoed below at cooking school, on the job, or watching the Food Network when he was a kid.
Here, Cova shows us the smart way to work with some ingredients you use all the time: garlic, onions, avocados, lemons, and eggs. You think you know, but you have no idea…
NOTE: None of this works if you have a shitty knife. For tips on buying a chef’s knife that won’t break the bank, check out our interview with Brendan McDermott, Knife Skills Expert at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Scroll through the GIFs below to see Corey demonstrate his essential kitchen tricks. You can follow him on Twitter @coreycova.
How to cut and peel an avocado
Grip the avocado on one side with one hand. With a large knife in the other hand, cut the avocado lengthwise around the pit. Twist the two halves and open—Oreo-style—to expose the center. Hack the pit with a knife, using enough force so that the knife edge wedges into it, but not so hard that it cuts all the way through it. A slight twist will dislodge the pit. Tap your knife against the side of a garbage bin to knock the pit off into the trash. Please, don’t wrestle to get the pit off the knife with your hand, or you will inevitably cut yourself and start crying.
Now, slice the avocado flesh into segments with the tip of a pairing knife. If you want cubes (or are making guacamole), you can slice the avocado in a cross-hatch pattern. Be careful not to break through the avocado peel.
Finally, use a spoon to easily scoop out the avocado slices.
How to chiffonade fresh herbs
Chiffonade is a chopping technique that transforms leafy herbs like basil, mint, and sage into gorgeous, thin ribbons. Before you begin chiffonading, make sure you are using a very sharp knife. If your knife is dull, you will crush and bruise the herbs instead of slicing through them.
Stack 10 (or so) leaves on top of each other. Gently roll the pile of leaves lengthwise into a tight cigar. Then, thinly slice the roll crosswise to create thin ribbons. Leave the tip of the knife against the cutting board and slice the herbs with a rocking motion, moving down the roll as you cut. Make sure you chiffonade the herbs right before using them in a dish, because they will darken and lose their piquancy once they are cut.
How to chop an onion
How not to chop an onion: randomly hack away at it with a bread knife, leaving pieces of completely different size.
What to do instead: Start with vertical cuts all the way along the onion half. Then, make a crosshatch pattern by slicing into the onion horizontally (leaving the very end of the onion intact). Finally, slice through the onion vertically once more. This will leave evenly-sized pieces.
How to cut lemon wedges
To make clean-looking lemon segments, start by cutting off one end of the lemon, then cutting off the other. This way, you can stand the lemon up on the cutting board on its flat, cut side, and not have it roll around.
Place one of the lemon halves cut-side down on the cutting board. Slice it in half lengthwise, then repeat with the second lemon half. Turn one lemon wedge on its side, and cut off the very edge of the wedge. This will remove most of the seeds, and also make the lemon wedges look clean. Repeat with the three other wedges.
How to get juice out of a lemon
Cooking with acid is the key to delicious cooking. Although there are many ways to juice a lemon, Cova prefers the following technique: Roll the lemon on the cutting board to loosen it up. Slice the lemon in half.
Set a sieve on top of a bowl. Dig the tip of a spoon, knife, or fork into the lemon half, and turn and squeeze the lemon as you turn the utensil. The sieve will catch the seeds and pulp, and you will get most of the juice out of the citrus.
How to peel garlic
Here’s the proper way to loosen the skin on a clove of garlic: simply press the blade against it and smash. Now, the peel will come off easily.
How to peel ginger with a spoon
Ginger and kiwi are super easy to clean with a spoon, as opposed to a pairing knife or peeler. Place the edge of the spoon against the ginger and scrape the skin away with a downward motion. You will lose less of the ginger flesh by using this technique.
Baste eggs to get the whites set
Do you like frying your eggs sunny-side up, but have trouble getting that top layer of egg white to set? Solution: start basting your eggs. Here’s how…
Heat a healthy amount of butter in your frying pan, then break your eggs into the hot fat. (You can also throw a bit of rosemary into the butter to flavor the eggs.) Once the whites start to set, tilt the pan so that the butter collects on the side. Spoon the butter over the tops of the eggs as they cook (this is basting). Continue to baste the eggs until the whites have set and the yolks are still runny. Remove the eggs from the pan with a spatula, blot them on a paper towel, and plate.
Shake eggs instead of whisking
“Shaking eggs in a container is way easier that whisking,” says Cova. He also points out that if you use this shortcut, there are less dishes to wash.
Make scrambled eggs with the steam wand on your espresso machine
“This technique works, but it’s a pain in the ass to clean the wand and not practical if there’s a ton of people waiting on their macchiatos,” says Cova. Still, if you have an espresso machine at home, this is a pretty impressive trick to show off at your next brunch party; plus, you won’t have to clean any pans.
Crack three eggs into a milk frothing pitcher. Add a tablespoon of half and half and a pinch of salt.
Submerge the steam wand into the eggs and begin steaming. The eggs will start to set. Mix once with a fork, and continue steaming.
If you want to get fancy like Cova, add diced avocado, onions, cilantro, and Sriracha to your scrambled eggs. #brunch