Secrets Chefs Don't Want You To Know

You can probably agree that modern life is tough to navigate and time is often in short supply. Whether you're cooking food for a large group of friends or enjoying dinner for one on a Tuesday night, you want to maximize your time in the kitchen. More than likely, you've probably figured out some tricks to help speed things along.

The truth? Even the pros cut corners! If chefs made every sauce from scratch, used only specialty ingredients, and shelled every pea, their fancy-pants dishes would never make to their dinner guests. Just like us plebeians, they also try to save time whenever possible. That said, using clever hacks to make life easier in the kitchen doesn't mean the food doesn't taste just as good. Here are some kitchen shortcuts everyone secretly uses—shhhh—to help maintain sanity in the kitchen. If you aren't already using them, feel free to try them out. It'll be our little secret.

Use frozen peas

Fresh peas are great and all but good ones only show up on the radar once a year! Since so many dishes benefit from the presence of peas, most chefs use frozen peas and feel no shame about it. Get them from your grocery store, keep them stockpiled in your freezer and be ready for anything. Whether you're whipping up chicken pot pie, spring risotto, or split pea soup, you'll be glad you have these little green gems tucked away and ready to go.

Make naan "pizza"

If you're anything like me, some nights you simply can't muster up enough energy to cook and all you want to do is order a pizza. Before you do, consider that you can whip up a pretty tasty pizza using premade naan bread. Yep. Simply plop your sauce, cheese, and toppings on a piece and throw it in the oven. Naan pizzas make for an easy solution when you don't want to cook-cook, but you feel guilty about ordering takeout.

Use premade pizza dough for everything

I like to have premade pizza dough on hand at all times. This versatile ingredient is great for the times when you want pizza, sure. However, it's also just as useful when you want to whip up cinnamon rolls, scallion pancakes, or pretzels. There are countless ways to cook with pizza dough. Make your life easier and stock up.

Bread proteins with instant mashed potatoes

Cheap, fast, and easy, instant mashed potatoes are perfect for breading chicken or fish when you don't have breadcrumbs on hand. Season the mixture with your favorite spices, a dash of salt, a few grinds of pepper and you have yourself a delicious breading for your favorite protein. Done, done, and done.

Thicken sauces with breadcrumbs

You're probably used to thickening sauces using flour, but what about breadcrumbs? To avoid adding too much flour and getting that raw taste in your mouth, simply throw in breadcrumbs instead. As they soak in the sauce, they release their starches and act as a thickener. Just strain them out and discard at the end and you're left with a perfectly thick, smooth sauce.

Clean seafood with salt

Cleaning seafood varieties like mussels or clams can be a pain. To save time and remain calm, try using salt to clean them. Soaking them in a bowl of salted water for about an hour or so helps to loosen the grit that sticks to the shells. After the soak, simply rinse and use a brush to remove the dislodged dirt. Easy!

Get acquainted with phyllo

Phyllo is your secret kitchen assistant. Whether you need to whip up fancy finger foods for a party or want delicious pastries ASAP, having phyllo in your freezer helps get you there faster. Phyllo consists of thin tissues of dough with little fat in them. It's used to make many of the tasty Greek pastries you can't get enough of. You can buy them in the freezer section of the grocery store in flat squares or sometimes rolls. To use it, brush the sheets with butter or oil and layer them on top of each other. Once baked, the pastry becomes incredibly light, crisp, and flaky, making it the perfect base for savory tarts, sweet strudels, or classic baklava.

Stuff lobster with Ritz crackers

Gourmet lobster stuffing is often made using dried out bread and salt. While that's all fine and dandy, you can skip the step of baking the bread slices when you use Ritz crackers instead. Crumble up the crackers, place them inside the lobsters, and your dinner guests will wonder what that amazing stuffing is. They might not immediately guess popular store-bought snacking crackers.

Freeze sauces in ice cube trays

Ice cube trays are surprisingly functional as a kitchen shortcut most cooks use to shave off time. I like to make large batches of my most oft-used sauces, divide them into ice cube trays, and freeze the trays. Whether you have extra marinara or pesto, freezing the sauces in the perfect little cubbies ice cube trays means you have already divided portions ready to use whenever you want. When you're ready to use the sauce, thaw out one or two cubes and you're one step closer to eating dinner.

Use two plastic lids to halve cherry and grape tomatoes

When you make as many salads as I do, you use the old plastic lids trick to halve your cherry and grape tomatoes. Let's face it. Those little suckers are annoying to slice when you have a bunch. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on a plastic lid from storage containers. Place another lid on top. Using one hand to hold down the lid, slice the tomatoes in half with a reliably sharp knife. Brilliant.

Mince garlic using a press or microplane

Garlic is an ingredient in so many dishes, yet mincing it as recipes tend to call for can be a pain. Thanks to their small size and stickiness, garlic cloves are not exactly easy to prep. One easy and obvious shortcut is to invest in an expensive garlic press. This awesome tool does the job in seconds. No garlic press? No prob. Use a microplane or other type of grater to grate the garlic. Voila!

Make whipped cream in a jar

If you don't have an electric mixer of some kind but you're in desperate need of whipped cream to top of your dessert, try using a jar. Yep, you read correctly. Simply fill the jar halfway up with heavy cream—and sugar and vanilla extract if you like—close the lid tightly, and shake vigorously. In a few minutes time, you get whipped cream with the added bonus of toned arms.

Cut off the ends of green beans all at once

Most of us probably don't spend hours trimming the individual ends off green beans and asparagus. Life is short and that's no way to live. Stack them all together on top of each other and slice off the ends in one fell swoop. The easiest shortcut ever, amiright?! Come on. You know you do it.

Peel ginger using a spoon

Ginger nubs are bumpy and impossible to peel with a regular knife without losing a lot of good usable ginger flesh. The simpler way to remove the delicate skin is by using a metal spoon. Yep, a regular old spoon. Scrape the edge of the spoon along the outside of the piece of ginger to handily remove that thin skin.

Strip herbs off their stems

No one has time to pick off every thyme or rosemary leaf. We're busy people. De-stemming herbs goes a lot faster when you strip the leaves from the stems. Using one hand, pinch the stem at the top, then just slide the fingers of your other hand down the stem until you get to the bottom. Leaves off, sanity intact.

Stack herb leaves and thinly slice all at once to chiffonade

Thin strands of herbs are often used as pretty garnishes atop dishes. Get your chiffonade game on at home by stacking all the leaves together, rolling them up, and thinly slicing them crosswise all at once. Separate all the leaves and you'll see a bounty of beautiful herb strands.

Use tongs to juice citruses

You don't need a fancy juicer from Williams Sonoma to get all that liquid gold from citruses. All you need are your regular kitchen tongs. Yep grab a pair, place the lemon or lime in between the tongs, and squeeze. Keep life simple, right?

Use a glass as a cookie or biscuit cutter

If you desperately need a cookie or biscuit cutter, grab a standard glass or jar. Flip it over and press down to cut through the dough. We all do this.

Use an egg tray as a cooling rack

Recipes often cue you to put cookies, cakes, and muffins on a wire rack to cool. If you don't have one, simply turn a cardboard egg tray upside down and set your hot baking sheet on top. I have definitely done this and it's totally fine!

Use a wine bottle as a rolling pin

If you don't bake a ton of pies, you might not have a rolling pin on hand. For the occasional roller, feel free to grab a wine bottle. It works just as well as a real rolling pin, I swear. Bonus? You get to drink wine afterward.

Use a resealable plastic bag to decorate cakes

Finished baking your cake and waiting for it to cool only to realize you don't have a pastry bag to pipe all the pretty frosting details? I've been there. No worries though because you can save your own day by using a resealable plastic bag to do the job instead. Just snip off one corner with a pair of scissors, put your pastry tip inside or skip it altogether if you don't have one, then fill the bag with frosting. Decorate away. Works like a dream.

Cooking can be a joy, but there's no point wasting time when you don't have to. There's no shame in using smart shortcuts that even pros take advantage of. We all do it! The point is to arrive at delicious food in your belly sooner rather than later, so don't sweat the small stuff in the kitchen.