August 17, 2011

Meatless Monday Part II

Or: Why Mise En Place Isn’t Just for Anthony Bourdain

So last night I didn’t finish cooking until about 8:30, we didn’t finish eating until 9, followed by an emergency trip to Target for hair conditioner, and, confession, there were still dishes in the sink when I left for work this morning. I really wanted to get my Meatless Monday post up, well, on Monday, so last night I thought I’d give you guys the short run down with pictures and links and all that jazz.

Today, however, I want to talk a little bit about the actual process of cooking last night’s dinner. This isn’t about ingredients or flavor, it’s about being a prepared cook. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, our dinner consisted of two separate dishes. And, as is often the case, there were many ingredients and steps going on in a very short period of time.

This sort of cooking reinforced the importance of mise en place. Mise en place is a fancy French term which basically means having everything you need ready to go before you start cooking - your veggies are chopped, your spices are measured, your utensils and dishes are within reach.

The bhindi masala especially required a lot of prep - from the time I turned on the burner until I put the lid on for the final simmer was only about 10 minutes, and in that 10 minutes I had to add about 15 different ingredients, all at various times. So, with the assistance of my capable sous chef, MG, we had everything chopped up and organized before I put anything on the stove. Pulling this dish off successfully required using all 8 of my small glass prep bowls, plus several small mixing bowls and a couple of plates, but it was well worth it. Since the two recipes had many similar ingredients (tomatoes and onions in both, plus different quantities of a lot of the same spices), I needed to make sure that I had everything laid out in a way that I wouldn’t get confused. We made two separate lines, with each component in its dish in the order it needed to be added. Then, when things got going, I was able to just grab each bowl as I needed, without having to stop or think or measure.

All lined up and ready to go.

Having your mise en place set is a very good habit to get into, and can save you a lot of time and frustration down the road. You may not need to do advance prep for each dish you make, but a good place to start is always by reading through the recipe so that you fully understand how much time you have between steps. If your recipe calls for a lot of different seasonings, it’s helpful to have them in little bowls, pre-measured, to just dump in as you go. You should also consider having all your veggies and meat chopped before you start, because chopping always takes longer than you think it will (and when debating speed vs. a potential reduction in finger count, I think you can guess which way I lean).

From beginning to end without a hitch!

Finally, being prepared can help with clutter on your counter. This is especially helpful if you, like me, are working in a small apartment-sized kitchen. Instead of having a cutting board, knife and all your spice jars out on the counter, you can put everything away, and as you use each prep dish, stack it up to go in the sink. Then you can worry about more important things, like not burning the garlic!

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