Meal Prep And Batch Cooking Experiments To Save Time
In this post, I connect the dots between the science of food quality and the technology of bulk cooking. From cooking a week's worth of eggs without them feeling like rubber, to ensuring your greens are stir-fried to perfection, I've compiled 9 tips in this post.
We identified 5 stages of meal prep in the earlier post:
Pre-cooking storage and preparation.
Final touches and consumption.
This post looks at stage 3, increasing the quality and quantity of cooking.
Here are all the posts in this series:
(Stage 3) 9 Cooking Tips: Increase Quantity And Maintain Quality
Here are 9 tips we learned on cooking.
Cooking A Lot Of Eggs
Tip 1 - We crack 30-40 eggs at a time. Each weekday, my wife and I collectively consume 5 eggs. To prepare, we season and whisk these eggs and then scramble them in a large non-stick Indian wok. A challenge for me: pinpointing the right moment to stop cooking to prevent overcooking. Both Kenji's "The Food Lab" and Nusrat's "Salt Fat Acid Heat" have invaluable insights on this but I am still working to implement them.
Tip 2 - Alternatively, let’s discuss other egg preparations. Omelets are out as they don’t scale. We have 2 egg boilers so we steam 14 eggs simultaneously. We have 2 cupcake trays, allowing us to cook 24 baked or shirred eggs simultaneously. A hiccup: this setup falls short of the total eggs we need in a week to eat 'clean'.
Boil And Stir-Fry Vegetables
Tip 3 - We discovered a time-saving approach to stir-frying: boil vegetables before stir-frying. This not only reduces the stir-fry time but also reduces the oil required. Another approach is microwave-steaming. However, my wife and I often debate the line between perfectly cooked and overly mushy vegetables. I haven’t figured out the right microwave duration. A dual approach of boiling some vegetables on the cooktop while steaming some other in the microwave further makes cooking parallel.
Tip 4 - Green leafy vegetables shrink during cooking. So, we add additional vegetables like mushrooms, bell peppers, or courgettes to increase total volume. These also provide a variation in the texture.
Tip 5 - While many Indian households advocate for fresh rice every meal, I argue for efficiency. The process of washing, pressure cooking, and awaiting the cooker to cool can stretch to 30 minutes. In contrast, reheating rice in a microwave takes only 3 minutes.
Tip 6 - We often have bread for breakfast (equivalent to rice in macronutrients). I batch-prep sandwiches for a week every Sunday. I put 5g roasted pumpkin seeds, cajun spice, garlic granules, lemon juice, salt, steamed vegetables, and a 20g cheese slice. The Food Lab book says that bread goes stale in the fridge (the water molecules unbind from the starch and move to the interstitial spaces), but toasting the bread binds the water molecules back to the starch, so refrigerated bread can be toasted and eaten.
Cooking Dal or Lentils
Tip 7 - Opt for a large pressure cooker or cooking vessel. It enables cooking more quantity of lentils in one go.
Tip 8 - At the same time, I marinate paneer (cottage cheese) in one bowl and chicken breast in another. I use the same marination spices for both, which saves time.
Tip 9 - It is easier to cook chicken breast or hard cheese in the oven with less supervision and less oil while preventing overcooking. I cook a sufficient quantity of chicken breast or paneer to store for 2-3 weeks in the freezer. For example, this is 1,500 grams of chicken breast and 500 grams of paneer will last us for 2 weeks.
Experiments In Fermenting Yogurt At Home
We experimented on making yogurt at home. Now our process improves both the quality and quantity of homemade yogurt. I’ve written it in a separate post here.
Adjustments For Diet
We follow a diet that’s low in calories, high in satiety, and measured weight of daily macronutrients. We made the following changes to ensure our cooking meets this diet plan precisely:
Measuring Food Quantities: We initially measured most foods before and after cooking to understand their cooking ratios. For instance, 100 grams of raw quinoa turns into 300 grams when cooked, and one egg typically weighs 58 grams. For items we don’t cook often, like lentils, we measure them every time, as the cooking method varies.
Limiting To Low-Calorie Ingredients: We've reduced the use of high-calorie additives like butter, oil, coconut, seeds, nuts, potatoes, carrots, green peas, sweet corn, and cheese. This helps keep the food's macronutrient and calorie content close to its natural state.
Consistent Food Chopping: To maintain consistency, we cut certain foods into uniform sizes each time. For example, we dice cottage cheese into 5-gram cubes and buy pre-diced chicken breast. We also chop fruits into small, consistent pieces.
You can see a video version of this section here.
6 Tips For Cooking Multiple Meals Simultaneously
I have a few cooking appliances in the kitchen and I try to use them all. I have:
5 cooktop hobs,
1 grill, and
I've learned these tips to speed up cooking:
Teamwork in the Kitchen: My wife and I cooking together speeds things up.
Clear Sink: An empty sink makes it easier to wash foods like grains or blanch vegetables without maneuvering around used dishes.
Using Two Stockpots: We have two stockpots, allowing us to boil a large amount of one vegetable or two different vegetables at the same time.
Pre-Chopped Vegetables: Our biggest time-saver is using pre-chopped vegetables, either bought from the store or prepared by our house help.
Using a Kettle for Boiling Water: We boil water in a kettle first, then transfer it to the stockpot, saving time.
Oven Cooking Alongside Cooktop: While we cook vegetables, dal, rice, or eggs on the cooktop, we use the oven for cooking chicken breast or paneer. I often defrost frozen vegetables and cook them in the microwave for making sandwiches.
When unable to cook multiple meals simultaneously, we cook one at a time and store them in the fridge. This way, we prepare each item for the upcoming days. For instance, we might cook a vegetable on Monday to last until Thursday, eggs on Tuesday to last until Saturday, and lentils on Wednesday to last until Monday.
Here are all the posts in this series: