No time to cook? Adam Liaw shares six ways to cook faster and smarter

Adam Liaw
Speed up your stir-fries by prepping veg before meat and setting up a seasoning station for sauces.
Speed up your stir-fries by prepping veg before meat and setting up a seasoning station for sauces. Photo: William Meppem


If you feel like you don't enough time to cook, the easiest way to resolve that is to cook faster. I don't mean turning the stove up to extra hot or running around the kitchen. 

Chop the vegetables before the meat and save on washing up.
Chop the vegetables before the meat and save on washing up. Photo: Marina Oliphant

It takes the same amount of time to boil an egg or cook a steak whether you're Gordon Ramsay or a rank amateur, but there are lots of ways to make your cooking more efficient without bending the laws of physics. 

Here are six tips on how to save time in the kitchen.

Work on your knife skills

Poor knife skills are probably the biggest culprit for slowing your pace in the kitchen. I really do feel for Jamie Oliver when people complain that his "15 Minute Meals" take an hour, because no matter how simple a recipe is, if it takes you 10 minutes to chop an onion then anything you cook will take an age.

Use it or lose it: Drain your spaghetti in a colander.
Use it or lose it: Drain your spaghetti in a colander. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Knife skills aren't just about speed. Texture is a big part of how we appreciate food, and how you cut something is the most important factor in controlling texture. Good knife skills means you'll be faster in the kitchen and your food will be better, too. Hit YouTube for some chopping training.

Cut vegetables first

Cutting your vegetables first is a very simple time saver. It can be tempting to start by preparing the meat, because we might see it as the main part of the meal, but cut your vegetables first and you won't have to wash your board and knife before you move onto other ingredients. It's not a big deal, but you just saved yourself a minute or two.

Practice makes fast

Even if practice doesn't always make perfect, it certainly makes fast. Following a recipe is time-consuming and inefficient. You're running back and forth to the book, newspaper or laptop and trying to work out what to do, how to do it and in what order. 


The first time you cook anything it will take you at least twice as long as it will the second time. By the third and fourth time you're probably getting it done in a fraction of the time you started out with. If you like a recipe, make it again. The more you make it, the faster and better it will get.

Use the right equipment for the job

It can be tempting to cut corners to try to save time. You can't be bothered washing a colander so you try to drain your pasta by gingerly holding it back with a fork as you pour away the water, but what happens? After getting a faceful of steam and burning your hand, you end up losing half your spaghetti into the sink anyway. 

The fastest and most efficient way of doing something is to use the correct equipment. I can guarantee trying to work out how to get away without using a colander or grater or extra tray is going to take you a lot longer than the 10 seconds it takes to wash it.

Cheesy vegetable hash.

Cook the potatoes in the microwave for this easy, cheesy vegetable hash (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem

Use technology

We live in a golden age of technology and that goes for the kitchen, too. Induction cooktops, steam ovens, pressure cookers and food processors are fast, but the two ultimate time-saving kitchen appliances are ones that most of us already have and which don't cost an arm and a leg: a microwave and a kettle. 

A kettle is the most efficient water boiler in your kitchen. Cook vegetables or seafood by simply pouring hot water over them, no pot required. Cut 10 minutes off your pasta water heating time by boiling water in the kettle first. Pour hot water over plates to heat them in seconds.

As for the microwave, use it to par-cook vegetables before stir-frying, or even to cook them completely. Hit potatoes with 10 minutes in the microwave and shave half an hour of their time in the oven. Rice that takes 40 minutes in a rice cooker or 20 minutes on a stovetop can be done in a microwave in 12-15. It's not cheating, it's smart.

Set up a seasoning station

An efficient kitchen has the things you cook with regularly set up right next to the cooktop. 

Go to a Chinese restaurant and you'll find salt, sugar, shao hsing wine, stock, vinegars, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornflour and perhaps garlic and ginger all within reach of the chef at the wok. In a French kitchen it might be butter, salt, pepper, wines, brandy, stocks and a few other odds and ends. 

There are no rules about this. What goes onto your own seasoning station will depend on what you like to cook. Next to my stove I have salt, sugar, soy sauce, oils (olive and canola), peppers (black and white), shao hsing wine, homemade teriyaki sauce, vermouth and the remnants of any bottles of wine I've opened recently. They are all things I use regularly in my cooking and having them on hand makes things much faster and easier.