Efficiency in the kitchen is all about saving energy. And by that I mean all kinds of energy. Your physical and mental energy, as well as the gas and electricity you use to cook.
Thankfully, these things often go hand in hand. The steps we can take in the kitchen to make our lives easier are often good for our energy consumption, too.
Here are three very basic things that can help you save energy of every stripe.
Clean your oven door
A lot of effort is expended in the kitchen unnecessarily. We push food from one side of a pan to the other and achieve very little in the process. We stir food unnecessarily, or stand guard over pans trying to busy ourselves when nothing really needs to be done.
The big one, however, has to be checking on things in the oven. I get it, the door isn't clean and the light's too orange and you can't work out if it's done or not, so you want to open the door *just a crack* to make sure everything's OK. Don't do it. It wastes time, drops the oven temperature and expends more energy in the process.
Having a clean oven door and moving your oven rack down one level can help a lot. A slightly lower oven rack will centre your food in the oven (where it should be) and mean that the oven light will shine onto the food, not into the side of your baking dish. All this helps you to see what's happening and reduces the urge to keep opening the oven door to check on things.
Clean the door seals while you're at it so the oven doesn't lose heat around the door edges.
Put food into a pan and walk away. Only stir it when it needs to be stirred. There's no need to slave over a hot stove. In fact, the only time I spend time actually standing at the stove is if I'm stir-frying. Most of the time I let the food do its thing while I can tidy up, wash a few dishes or even just kick back and relax.
Washing your dishes under running water has its advantages. Photo: Supplied
Wash your dishes in running water
You might be asking how washing your dishes in running water can reduce your effort in the kitchen, but this is one of the most useful ways of saving time. We focus a lot on the time we spend cooking, but cleaning time is just as important, if not more.
Research shows that we Aussies are split around 50:50 on whether we wash our dishes in running water, or fill the sink with soapy suds. In terms of water and soap usage both come out about the same, but running water has one big benefit – you can do it anytime you need to.
Cleaning as you go is one of the best efficiencies in the kitchen. Grate some ginger with a microplane? Rinse it straight away. Meat juices on a prep tray? Wash it before it dries. Finished cooking in a pan? Head straight to the sink.
It sounds basic, but if you clean things straight away, they're easier to clean. Wait until you've got enough dishes to fill a sink and some of them will have baked- or dried-on food that will take more time to move. Quite often I'll use the same trays, knives, boards and bowls for cooking over and over. One bowl used three times and rinsed or lightly washed in between is often a lot more efficient than using three different bowls.
Use bigger pots, with lids preferably. Photo: Katrina Meynink
Use bigger pots (with lids)
Big pots save time and I'm not even kidding. Not just because you can cook more in them, but because they're more efficient, too.
On gas stoves larger pots reduce the "spill" of heat around the side of the pot meaning more of the heat energy is transmitted into the food, and if cooking in an oven you're using around the same energy.
For anything that cooks longer than about half an hour, it's worth making a bigger batch. It takes less time per meal, and less energy. But you also need to know how to do it properly.
It's often not just a matter of doubling or tripling the recipe. This is because of the difference between volume and surface area. Volume increases in three dimensions; surface area in just two. In practice this translates to less liquid being lost throughout cooking.
If you're increasing the volume of a recipe, any browning steps will generally need to be done in batches (particularly with meats), and you might want to slightly reduce the liquid ingredients or increase the seasoning, to account for the dilution caused by excess water.
The relationship between liquid and volume can also help you cook with a lid more. The more time spent with a lid on, the more energy efficient your cooking is, and the difference between covered and uncovered in cooking is mainly around evaporation. In many cases adding a little less water and keeping your pot covered will cook things faster and more efficiently.