Thursday, September 16, 2010

meez on PLASS

Aromatics
Pete Wells is his "Cooking with Dexter" column goes after mise en place:
Setting all my ingredients on the counter before cooking is no problem. I’ve learned my lesson from getting halfway through a recipe before realizing that the jar of roasted peppers in the refrigerator is covered in a downy white film of mold. But the next step in a proper mise en place — the knife work — trips me up. I run out of space on the cutting board. I run out of patience. I run out of time. I’m hungry and I want everything to move faster. So with only half the chopping done, I start to heat the pan. With that, the train has left the station, and I am swinging by one hand from the back of the caboose. Ultimately, I get where I’m going, but the trip isn’t pretty to watch.

This filled me with shame until I opened Sara Moulton’s latest book. Moulton knows her way around a kitchen. She has been the host of several cooking shows, the author of a number of cookbooks and the executive chef of Gourmet for 23 years. And she says, on the second page of “Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners,” that mise en place is “a waste of time.” She exempts Asian recipes, where the ingredients spin around in a smoking wok and are ready to eat two minutes later. But in general, she endorses my method of chopping the onion that will go into the pan first, and then doing the rest of the prep as I go along.
The problem with this style is that, for most beginning cooks, prep is often the most unpredictably long part of following any recipe. We're not fast with our knife work and we don't necessarily know all the terms used in the recipe until we look them up on the internet. I know that for me, especially when I was just starting to learn, not doing mise en place was just asking for a stressful cooking experience. I don't want to be stressed cooking... I want to have fun... and a good way to achieve that is to have everything chopped and in neat little bowls. Now, these days... since while I'm still pretty slow with a knife, I at least know roughly how long it's going to take me to dice a pound of zucchini...   I mainly only seriously mise en place for more complicated recipes with lots of fine dicing... otherwise I look through a recipe to determine where I have enough time in between steps to prep... but there is no way a person just getting into cooking is going to have any solid notion of how long it takes them to dice an onion. Ultimately it's all personal, and some cooks are just more seat-of-the-pants than others (not me)... but if you find that one of the things you don't like about cooking is how stressed out you get trying to follow a recipe, then mise en place is definitely something to try (though then you might get frustrated at how long it takes to make what is supposed to be a 30 minute recipe).