We all know how it goes when it comes to timing in love and politics, but right now I’m focused on dinner. In the U.S., at dinner, meat/poultry/fish, a starch and vegetable(s) are typically all served at the same time. Even vegetarians here often bring all the hot items out together.
Scene: Guests or family seated at the beautifully set table, waiting expectantly.
Cook brings out all kinds of gorgeous, hot food – none of it overcooked.
Younger me: How does that work? Seems like magic.
Older me:(Works) with difficulty, and sometimes not. Chances of it happening improve if you start out with a reasonable plan for what needs to be cooked, how long it will take, and when it needs to start in order for all the dishes to finish at the same time.
Like several of my other 10 rules for meal preparation sucess, this one is about practice. There is no way to learn how to time multiple hot dishes, except to practice. But learning a couple of tricks helps too.
Timing Tips – Serving More Than 1 Hot Food at a Time
- Rice stays warm in a covered pot for a while. Leave the pot covered, turn off the light and let it rest.
- Cooked rice can be reheated by sprinkling it with water and microwaving it in a microwave-safe container on high (covered) for 1-2 minutes.
- Cooked noodles/pasta can be reheated by tossing them back into rapidly boiling water for 1-2 minutes. (If this is the plan, only parboil the first time. As the pasta cooks, test it and strain out of cooking water when the pasta is not quite done.)
- Meat, poultry or fish served dry (without a sauce) has a tendency to dry out when reheated, so plan the timing for vegetables and starches around serving that dish without needing to reheat it.
- Stews or main dishes with lots of sauce (like meatballs in “red sauce” or curries) are easy to reheat on the stovetop, but do so gently. Better to bring the dish back to a simmer slowly rather than to boil it with gusto.
- Pasta, noodles and rice will soak up sauce if left to sit or cook in it for an extended period. Therefore, don’t add the starch until the last minute, or reserve a cup or two of sauce to pour back in just before serving.
- Some dishes, such as stews and pot roast, taste better if they sit in the refrigerator overnight and the tastes get a chance to blend and strengthen. You can warm the dish up the next day, simmering it on the stovetop while you steam, roast or boil a vegetable or two. If you want to combine the vegetables with the stew or meat, toss the vegetables into the stew or meat as you bring it to the table.
- Before you start, calculate how long each item will take to prepare and cook, and make a mental or paper list ordering what you’ll do and a timetable for how to accomplish it by the time you’ve decided dinner should be ready. As you get more experienced, you may not think of it as a list, but you’ll still have an order in your mind as you start cooking.
If you hate multi-tasking just before a meal is served or it stresses you out, forget that last tip. Stick to one pot stews, hearty soups, pot pies, big salads, and other multi-ingredient dishes with a side salad. (Try my latest, a whole chicken cooked with vegetables in a slow cooker.) Another strategy that may help is to serve in courses, continental style. Of course, you could also make everything ahead of time and just reheat at serving time.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy cooking (and eating with friends and family) without driving yourself crazy.