If your dish doesn’t cut it, you will be chopped.
Make Great Food in Little Time
Do you enjoy watching the American reality series called Chopped? In the Food Network show, four chefs face off in three 20- to 30-minute culinary entrée battles. At the end of each round, someone gets chopped (eliminated) by celebrity judges, leaving one chef as the Chopped champion. The original series includes professional chef competitors. Special editions include cafeteria cooks, moms, or teams. Chopped Junior has aspiring children. Either way, the pace and and honorific title is the same.
Any hungry person who has come home to a pantry limited to dried Ramen noodles, green tomatoes, and yellow pound cake can appreciate the ingenuity of these chefs. Some viewers enjoy the expression of celebrity judges as they consume disgusting food combinations. If nothing else, the show inspires the belief that you can cook a hearty meal in 30 minutes at home.
Eclectic mystery basket ingredients require fast thinking. The 30-minute timer requires even faster cooking (20 minutes for appetizer round). Most people allot the same amount of time to prepare breakfast or dinner most days. Learning how to multi-task in the kitchen saves time. Watch enough episodes and common mistakes emerge. Particularly is this the case among amateur competitors.
- Begin with items that take longest to prepare.
- Do not forget to season food. Layer flavors. Taste everything.
- Portion 30-minute rounds as though there are only 20 to allow time for plating and contingencies.
- For pasta or rice, season the water.
- Risotto takes 30 minutes of nearly constant attention. Brown rice takes 20–30 minutes. White rice takes 12–15 minutes. Do the math.
- Elevate basket ingredients rather than simply adding them as garnish.
- Know your judges. Some want to taste each basket ingredient. Others are satisfied with subtle inclusion.
- Chiffonade and blanch or sauté bitter tough greens like kale.
- Dry greens cannot be called a salad. Always toss them in dressing just before serving.
- Prevent injuries by squaring tubular vegetables before slicing, chopping, or dicing.
- For a quick salad, roll carrots, celery and green onion with lettuce leaves and chiffonade chop together.
- Meat should be seared in an oiled cast iron skillet prior to baking or stewing. It takes medium-high heat to sear.
- For a thin skirt steak, consider seasoning, stuffing, rolling, searing, and then baking.
- Most chef judges prefer medium rare. No one cares that you like well done.
- Include a variety of colors on your plate—not all brown, white or green.
- Save some basket ingredients in case something you prepare with it turns out badly.
- Do not serve burnt food. Keep a watch on items in the oven and on the stove. It is right behind you. Setting multiple timers is useful.
- If a pan catches fire (and it is not an intentional flambé), cover it with a lid. Do not run through the kitchen with it.
- Always toast or bake bread. Sliced pantry bread is not not a crostini.
- Remember sauces can elevate many courses. Thin your sauce; it will thicken over time. Do not make a crispy component soggy. If necessary, include sauce beneath it or serve on the side.
- It takes 6 minutes to make ice cream in the machine. Beyond that and it’s butter.
- If ice cream is done early, dish it up and store in the blast chiller so it will not melt. Also chill the serving vessels.
- Do not contaminate cooked food with raw food. Wipe down your board and flip it.
- Keep your work area clean. You need space to plate your dishes.
- Serve smaller plates during appetizer and dessert rounds. Entrée is more substantial.
- Leave yourself at least one minute—ideally 2—to garnish and wipe plates clean.
At home you have the added benefit of being able to prepare components ahead of time. Mince onions and bell pepper, chop celery, and julienne carrots in advance. Store them within containers (celery and carrots in water) in the refrigerator to use as required. Whether or not you appear on the Food Network, these tips will help you to make exciting dishes in your kitchen without getting chopped.
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