Make It Faster with Michael Symon

Make It Faster with Michael Symon
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Make It Faster with Michael Symon

We asked speedy chef Michael Symon for the secret to making meals fast. Read on to discover his 15 time-saving tips, from what five pantry items you should always have on hand to why keeping your knives sharp is so important.

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1. Have pantry staples readily available.

Chef Symon always has these five ingredients on hand:

  • olive oil (“The best one that you can afford,” he tells us.)
  • kosher salt
  • sea salt
  • San Marzano canned tomatoes (“[For] if you ever need a quick pasta,” he explains.)
  • an array of vinegars

With these key ingredients, he can whip up simple dishes fast. “If I have San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, salt and some dry pasta noodles, I can get a meal on the table quickly,” he says.

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2. Don’t underestimate the power of vinegar.

"I always have sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar and white wine vinegar because vinegars really pull out the flavors of food. Acidity and salt are the biggest enhancers of flavor," Symon shares. "Very, very often if something tastes a little flat to me I’ll just put in a splash of vinegar."

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3. Chopping takes practice—but cheat if you have to.

There is no secret shortcut to faster knife skills. "Chop quicker? I think that comes with time," he answers. While Chef Symon stands by his trusty knife to do his prep work, he won't turn his nose up at high-powered processors. "If you have a KitchenAid and it is easier for you to do it like that, I'm not going to say, 'Don’t do it'."

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4. Prep ingredients during down time.

Restaurants have mastered the art of running an efficient kitchen, and Symon suggests treating your home like one by preparing ingredients beforehand. "If you have some extra time on the weekends, chop a bunch of onions, chop a bunch of garlic, cut up your carrots and store them in a sealed container with a damp paper towel on top and bottom, so when you are cooking during the week you can just cook and not have to worry about cutting," he advises.

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5. Get all hands on deck.

Even the littlest hands can help. When asked how to cut down on cleaning time, Symon jokes, "What I would recommend with cleaning time is children! I have my two nephews staying with me right now, and cleaning is not a problem."

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6. Trust in these two time-saving kitchen tools.

What kitchen tools help Chef Symon save time? "A sharp chef's knife more than anything else or a mandolin–those are two tremendous time savers," he lists.

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7. Dull knives will slow you down.

You'll know your knives need sharpening when you can't cut through food as fast. "It is really just a feel thing, and the worst cuts I’ve ever seen in the kitchen are when a cook is using a dull knife. The knife should glide through the food, and if it’s not, get it sharpened," he tells us.

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8. Sharpen knives every two weeks.

"I sharpen it myself but every farmers market nowadays has a knife sharpener there, and just about every town has someone who will sharpen your knives," says Symon. "I do them weekly but I cook a lot, so maybe every other week, or there is a great electric sharpener called Chef's Choice which isn’t cheap but also does a great job."

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9. Cook more often.

"I think the more you cook, the more organized you get and the more you know timing," Symon tells us. "If there is something in the freezer, I put it in the fridge two days before I want to eat it. If I know I'm going to have pasta for dinner at 5 p.m., I put the pot of water on the stove at 4 p.m. and then do some other things while it gets hot. I think the more you cook, the more common sense and instinctive it becomes."

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10. To Toast, or Not To Toast?

We asked Chef Symon for his thoughts on convenient kitchen appliances like toasters and microwaves. While he approves of toasters and toaster ovens, microwaves are a whole different story. "I’ve never owned a microwave so I cant even comment on it in an intelligent manner. My parents had one when I was a kid, but I was afraid to use it. It just doesn’t make any sense to me," the chef reveals.

"Sometimes people who are staying with me are like, 'How do you make popcorn?' And I’m like, 'You make it in a pan! Like everybody else is supposed to do.'"

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11. Let your meat sit out for at least an hour.

Symon takes meat out of the fridge an hour before cooking and lets it come to room temperature. "That will speed up the cooking time and make the meat cook a lot more evenly. That is the best time-saver there," he explains.

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12. Entertain with fuss-free dishes so you can enjoy the party.

When you're throwing a dinner party, it's easy to get stuck in the kitchen. Avoid it by planning a menu around easy meals. "I would recommend anything you can cook in a casserole or braised one-pot style. Lasagna works great [or] braised short ribs. All of those things stay warm incredibly well and are very easy to warm up," Chef Symon suggests.

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13. Favorite Five-Ingredient Dish

Symon's favorite dish to make with five ingredients or less is pasta pomodoro. "Noodles, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and garlic," he tells us. "I’m happy as a clam."

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14. Chef Symon's Fastest Meal

"Nutella, banana and bacon sandwiches on toast," he shares. "So good."

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15. Quick Go-To Sauce

Those San Marzano tomatoes in your pantry will come in handy for this fast and easy sauce. "I just chop up some onion and garlic and put the tomatoes in there [with] olive oil and that’s it," says Symon. "Maybe a quick sauté of mushrooms glazed with a little white wine, hit with a touch of butter, done."

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Think five-ingredient meals under five minutes is impossible? Think again. Chef Michael Symon wants you to rethink your approach to the dinner table.

In his new book 5 in 5: 5 Fresh Ingredients + 5 Minutes = 120 Fantastic Dinners, Michael reveals the secret to making simple and satisfying meals from scratch under a time crunch.

"I do a segment on The Chew called 5 in 5 that has been a tremendous success, but my inspiration for doing it on The Chew and now the book is that in modern day America, most people have or can find the time on weekends to do a big, long, drawn-out cooking day, but not during the typical work week," he explains. "If you have the ability to get a meal made from scratch on the table in five to 10 minutes, you are going to do that." To spend more time with his family, Michael found ways to get simple homemade meals on the table quickly.

We asked Michael for the secret, and he shared 15 time-saving tips that will turn you into a believer. Find out what five essential pantry items you should always have on hand, why keeping your knives sharp is so important and what surprising common kitchen appliance Michael has never owned.

Check out the slideshow above to discover Michael's 15 tips to make meals faster.

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