Chef shortcuts: How to make a mid-week meal the main event

Top tips on how you can up the ante of your mid-week meals.
Top tips on how you can up the ante of your mid-week meals.  Photo: Supplied.

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Adam Liaw knows that, for most people, cooking is often just a daily chore. But he wants you to own the fact that you've probably had hassle at work, the kids are yelling, and preparing dinner has been an added stress.

"You've probably got low blood sugar too, so the point at which you sit down at the table is probably the grumpiest you're going to be all day," he says with a laugh. "Just remind yourself that in five minutes, you'll be in a better mood. Take time to enjoy the meal and relax."

Here are Liaw's pro tips on how to make a mid-week meal that extra bit special.

Focus on the formula

The secret to a more enjoyable evening experience is to cook with family members or friends, enjoy some lively chat, use easy recipes, and focus on reducing the chore factor while adding flavour. (You might say this is the essence of Liaw's new show The Cook Up, which runs weeknights on SBS Food.) Liaw says we should also remember that home cooking can be a joy rather than a tedious necessity.

Keep it simple

Liaw has never been a pretentious chef, and his number one suggestion is to keep it simple. "Don't get obsessed with complicated food and combining too many ingredients," he advises. "Look in the fridge or pantry for what you have and think about the simplest way to cook it that makes it tasty."

Simple ingredients can still make for a delicious meal.

Simple ingredients can still make for a delicious meal. Photo: Getty Images.

Keep it short

While Liaw recognises that nobody can create Michelin-quality food in limited time, he thinks it perfectly feasible to create a tasty dish such as pork belly or a roast chicken with 10 minutes preparation – although cooking time comes one top of that, of course.

Using fewer ingredients, setting up an efficient kitchen and honing your knife skills should already see you achieving speedier results, he suggests.

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Use the microwave

There is no reason to be snobby about the microwave, says Liaw. "Back in the 1980s people were putting roast chook in the microwave because you could cook it much faster than in the oven. No chef would enjoy that. But if you use the microwave to complement rather than replace cooking methods, I'm all for it."

Among his tips? Microwaving mushrooms before frying, because this will break down the air spaces trapped within them and afterwards, when they go into the pan, they won't only brown better but absorb less oil. You'll get better fried potatoes too, in less time. Microwaving potatoes and then chilling them in the fridge, says Liaw, saves you parboiling and drying them before frying.

Heat your pan

What else can we do to make home cooking a simpler, more enjoyable experience? Among other things that amateur chefs get wrong, Liaw adds, is not heating their pans sufficiently to stop the food they are frying from sticking. "Many recipes instruct you to heat the oil in the pan, but that is not a method I favour," he adds, suggesting you heat the pan first, and only add the oil after it is hot enough.

Focus on the seasoning

Always taste your cooking, says Liaw – although not for anything other than seasoning. "For example, when you've finished cooking your spaghetti bolognese don't taste it to too see whether it has too little or too much garlic. Too late for that. But if it tastes a bit sour because of the tomatoes, add a little sugar and salt to balance it out."

Seasoning has the power to make or break a meal.

Seasoning has the power to make or break a meal. Photo: Getty Images

He says chefs are commonly criticised for over-salting food, but points out that they nearly always season from scratch, while home cooks often use sauces and other pre-packaged ingredients already full of far more salt than you would ever see a chef using. "I know by how often I buy salt how much of it I'm using, and I probably only buy a kilo packet once a year at home."

Finish up before you eat

Liaw's final suggestion is to clean up as you go. He learned that from his grandmother, an impressive cook who never had a cluttered kitchen because she always washed up as worked. "You don't want to be dreading the washing up afterwards. Relax into the meal. Enjoy."

For more hints check out Adam Liaw's brand new SBS Food series The Cook Up with Adam Liaw which is a smorgasbord of easy to follow recipes and tips for viewers to recreate at home just in time for dinner.

Every episode sees Liaw being joined by fellow celebrity chefs and food-loving Aussie media personalities as they chop, chat and sauté their way through simple and delicious meals each evening. Soon, you'll be cooking like a pro!

The Cook Up with Adam Liaw airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm.