Chef’s kitchen hacks to save you time and heartache

Chef and author Mel Alafaci wants to upskill home cooks and turn them into confident and well-equipped home chefs. She shares her top five tips.


1. Sharpen your knives and always put a wet cloth under your chopping board

Always put a cloth under your chopping board when doing prep. Not only will this stop the board from moving, but it will also make it safer and less stressful. I hate to watch people battle their way through prep with the board moving all over the place.

Also, sharpening your knives will change your life. You can get a mobile knife sharpening service to come to your house – it’s not that expensive and you will be surprised at what a difference it makes. A sharp knife and a board that doesn’t move is very ‘cheffy’ indeed.

2. Cook extra and switch it up

I love to share this sneaky little hack where I cook one huge dish, split it up into the freezer, and then make different meals out of it later in the month.

My family has never caught on that I do this, and it’s less work in terms of dishes and effort later! For example, I cook a huge batch of Bolognaise mince. I serve some for dinner that night, but stash some away in the freezer. Next week comes along and it’s one of those nights I’m just too lazy, then I defrost and heat the Bolognaise and throw it through penne pasta or spiralise some zucchini and serve it with that. Or make it into nachos, tacos, goodie bowls, rosti mince pie. With a little imagination and experimentation, you will find endless uses for pre-cooked mince.

3. Get your pan swear-word hot and don’t stir

You need to manage the heat in your pan. If you add 650 grams of cold meat and liquid marinade to a small cold pan and then stir you are definitely going to get a grey soggy stew and not a stir-fry!

Get the pan swear-word hot.

Add a little cheap and cheerful oil (rice bran, canola, etc).

Only add the meat to the pan if it sizzles.

Don’t stir until the first layer that has hit the pan is browned and sealed. If you are cooking mince, you can attack the lumps with two forks or a whisk. I always add my onion second, that way I don’t have to add extra oil to cook the onions. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Only stir when the pan has regained its heat. You can lower the temperature in the pan once you are happy it’s all sealed and now just needs to cook through.

4. You stirred your mince and now it’s crying

If you put your meat into a cold pan or stirred it too much, it will stew, seep and cook grey every single time. The more you stir, the more it will stew. You know I’m right.

If there is grey liquid in your pan at any stage, it is simply because the pan is too cold, you are stirring too much and the mince is stewing. Scrape all the mince to the one side of the pan, leaving half the pan naked. Put up the heat and back away from the pan. Eventually, the grey liquid will cook back into the mince and voila, you have learnt to cook mince in the sexiest way! It really does mean free flavour. You will now live happily ever after.

5. Treat extra virgin olive oil like a princess

Extra virgin olive oil is great for dunking bread into or roasting vegies in the oven, but it’s like a princess in the kitchen – it does not like to get hot and sweaty and will set off the fire alarm repeatedly. It just can’t take the heat. If you need to cook at a high temperature, use one of the workhorse oils like canola, sunflower, rice bran or vegetable oil. 

Mel Alafaci is a chef and author. You can listen to her chat with podcast host John Deeks here, visit for more information or find her book Culinary Quickies here.

Have you been cooking mince correctly? And using the right oil for your dishes? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: How to turn potatoes into a health food

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