The Best Thing I Learned from Rachael Ray Might Surprise You

updated Feb 26, 2020
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Year ago, I used to watch Rachael Ray’s Food Network show, 30-Minute Meals, at the gym. I loved that her recipes were simple enough that I could easily recall how to make them for dinner. And every night, she also demonstrated several kitchen hacks that save time (and footsteps) in the kitchen — like gathering all your ingredients at once and using a “garbage bowl.” As a novice home cook, I enjoyed trying her recipes and her techniques in the kitchen.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot better at cooking: I attended cooking school, worked in professional kitchens, and developed recipes for magazines and cookbooks. But there’s one lesson from Rachael that that sticks with me, even today, from watching Rachael cook.

The Best Thing I Learned from Rachael Ray Is to Use My Hands

Before Rachael, my approach to cooking was (literally) hands-off; watching her cook, I learned that getting my hands dirty was not only faster and more effective, but also connected me to my food in a way I hadn’t experienced before. It made cooking more fun and more like play.

Rachael showed me that there were times that using my hands instead of tools would often make quick work out of tasks — and get fewer tools dirty. To be more specific there are (at least) seven times when your hands are better than a kitchen tool. I didn’t learn all of these from Rachael — some I learned in cooking school or on my own — but Rachael gave me the confidence to start getting my fingers into my food.

7 Times Your Hands Are Better than a Kitchen Tool

1. Seeding Bell Peppers

Before Rachael: I would cut off the top, slice the pepper in half, and gingerly — read: painstakingly — pick out the seeds with the tip of a paring knife. It took forever.

After Rachael: I lop off the pepper top, reach in, and pull out the core. I use a knife to halve the pepper and my fingers to rip off the ribs, scraping out any errant seeds. (Note, if it’s a hot pepper, I do wear a glove — though a spoon also works.)

2. Picking Out Lemon Pips

Before Rachael: This is another place where I used to use the tip of a paring knife. But picking out pips from lemon slices or halves this way feels really arduous.

After Rachael: I simply pick the pips out with my fingers and if I’m juicing a lemon, I don’t mess about with juicers or presses. I just hold the lemon half over the cooking pot or dish and squeeze it with my other hand underneath, to catch the seeds as they fall out. The juice runs through my fingers, and the seeds get caught.

3. Peeling Garlic

Before Rachael: Using a paring knife to do battle with the delicate papery skin of a garlic clove is maddening. You can waste tons of time trying to get even a couple cloves fully paper-free. It’s almost enough to make you consider the jarred stuff.

After Rachael: For years, I used the heel of my hand (with or without the aid of the flat side of a chef’s knife) — it works fine, but leaves the cloves a little bruised. Recently I stumbled across this brilliant tip for peeling garlic more gently by squeezing it in the Kitchn archives. When I found it, I literally went through an entire head of garlic just to ensure that it really did produce an unmarred, easily peelable cloves. And it does!

4. Separating Eggs

Before Rachael: It seems like everyone is trying to figure out how to avoid touching the egg innards and I was one of them! You can buy special tools, or use a small mesh strainer; there’s even a trick involving an empty water bottle. My favored method was the “pass the yolk back and forth between the two egg shell halves,” which, if I’m trying to be very careful with my separating, I’ll still use on ocassion.

After Rachael: Most of the time, though, I just crack an egg and catch the yolk in one hand, while the white drips through my fingers. Because fingers are soft, the yolk almost never breaks (unless it breaks during cracking). At least half the time I have to use my finger to dislodge the last of the white from part of the eggshell anyway, so it saves time and cleanup.

5. Dredging Chicken Cutlets

Before Rachael: I would use a fork (or maybe tongs) to gingerly dip a chicken cutlet into flour, then into egg, then finally in breadcrumbs. What a time-consuming pain!

After Rachael: These days, it’s fingers all the way. Breading goes much faster when you just pick up your food, whether it’s fried green tomatoes, pork chops, or chicken Francese — and it’s also easier to get the everything fully-coated.

Bonus Tip: One trick I picked up in culinary school is to keep a dry hand and a wet hand, so you don’t have to stop and wash halfway through breading. (See also, these breading and frying tips.)

6. Making Scones

Before Rachael: Whenever I made a dough in the past, even for something as simple as buttery scones, I would use a rolling pin to get the dough to an even thickness. Then, after cutting out the scones, I’d gather the scraps, press them together, and re-roll.

After Rachael: Now, I get perfectly good scone dough to an even thickness with a few hand pats. Some purists might scoff that the heat from my hands could soften the butter too much, but if you work quickly enough, it doesn’t affect the dough at all. Plus, using hands allows you to feel where the dough is thicker or thinner. That’s a real advantage.

Bonus Tip: Instead of bothering with biscuit cutters, I get out a chef’s knife and cut the dough into squares or wedges. That saves the whole re-rolling step, which is where your butter will start to soften.

7. Temping Water

Before Rachael: When I first started making yeast bread, I would use a thermometer to ensure the water was in the optimal 105°F to 110°F range. And, okay, if you’re worried about burning a finger in scalding water, that’s still probably the way to go.

After Rachael: But if I know the water hasn’t been heating that long, I’ll just stick a finger in. If it’s too hot to keep a finger in it for more than a couple seconds, then it’s too hot for the yeast. And it should feel hot, not warm; if you barely notice it, then it’s body temp and not warm enough to activate the yeast.

Side Note: I still use a thermometer when cooking meat. I know it’s safe, and also, I never figured out that “touch test” chefs employ.

What about you? What kitchen tools do you skip in favor of using your hands?