Sunday, September 5, 2010

Cooking 101: Lesson One - Prep work is everything!

If you're new to cooking, there are a few things you should practice along with the actual food.  Preparation is the key to successful food making.  It's especially helpful in lowering your stress levels while learning a blood pressure-raising task such as cooking.

The French, while snotty and lacking in personal grooming, have their shit locked down in the kitchen.  There is a French term, "mise en place," which is used in the restaurant industry.  It means "putting in place" and refers to the chef's setup.

When I get ready to cook dinner, there are several steps I go through before I ever turn on a stove burner or the oven.  They help me maintain an organized workspace, an organized brain, and a cleaner kitchen.

Begin with clean countertops and an empty sink.  You'll be glad you did.

1. Look at your recipe.  Give it a good read and determine the time needed for the steps.  Is it a crockpot-dump-and-forget-it, or is there ongoing work?  Do you have all of the ingredients?

2. Sharpen the knife or knives you'll be using.  I use a sharpening stone with two wheels- one rough and one smooth.  Wipe the knife with a clean towel to remove sharpening debris.

3. Get out the pans you'll need and set them on the stove.  Also retrieve any utensils you will be using- wooden spoon, rubber spatula, garlic press, measuring cups and spoons, etc.

4. If the kitchen trashcan is not near your work area, move it next to where you'll be standing.  If you use a compost bucket, have it nearby as well, ready for veggie scraps.

5. WASH YOUR HANDS with soap and warm water.  Dry them on a clean kitchen towel and keep that towel handy.

6. Get out all the ingredients you will need- spices, meat, veggies, eggs, olive oil, etc. and set them in your work area.

7. Measure out spices and put them in small bowls.  I have 4 tiny glass bowls I got at a restaurant supply store.  Each only holds about 2 Tbsp. but they are perfect for minced garlic, spices, and small amounts of garnish like chives or parsley.  Also measure out any liquids you'll be using, such as chicken stock, water, or milk.

8. Starting with vegetables, do all of the necessary chopping.  Set veggies aside in small bowls.  You can combine the ones that will be cooked together to save space.  After all of the veggies are prepped, cut your meat, if using.

9. Put the meaty cutting board and knife in the sink, wash your hands again, and wipe down the countertop.

10. Now...cook!

Vegetables prepped for a Japanese style hibachi stir-fry
Mise en place for rice pilaf- minced garlic, chopped onion, vegetable bouillon cube, thyme sprigs, white and wild rices in measured amounts
Mise en place for spring vegetable couscous.  Here are my tiny prep bowls- so cute and so functional!

1 comment:

AllisonCunny said...

I love your advice! You're so right about everything, too. Every time I try to skip a step (mainly, cleaning the sink), I regret it later.

I too have tiny prep-bowls that are crucial in the kitchen. My mom and I found cute red ones on deep discount that even have measurements on the side!