What's for Dinner, Mom? Or How to Beat the 5 O'Clock Dinner Rush
Do you loathe your OWN 5 O'CLOCK RUSH and the question: "Mom, what's for dinner?"
Don't worry, many home cooks feel that exact same way.
As a culinary school graduate who then worked in restaurants, hotel and catering kitchens, I learned a simple technique and PRACTICE used by restaurant chefs that enables them to deliver so many different dishes to your table in a small amount of time.
The Chef's Secret Is …"Mise en Place."
Mise en place (French pronunciation: [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]) is a French phrase, that means "putting in place," as in setting up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. This definition is from Wikipedia.
Eating in a restaurant with an open kitchen or the chef’s table, you will see mise en place in action. The workstations are lined with little containers, bowls and bottles of sauces.
As a line cook, I spent hours getting everything ready for dinner service or an evening event. Everything must be ready to go because when you are in the middle of service, there is no time to go back and dice up some carrots. The show must go on.
How a Home Cook Can Apply Mise en Place
Make sure you have all the ingredients. There is nothing efficient about starting to cook your dinner, having the onions sautéing and realizing that you are missing an ingredient and need to run out to the grocery store or that now you think you are going to wing it.
Find a delicious looking recipe, make a LIST of ingredients that you will need, go to the store and buy all the ingredients on your LIST.
Tip: If you clean your produce and prep your meat when you get home from your weekly trip for the grocery store, you are more likely to use it before it spoils.
This is the way to do it.
A good example of using this technique is when you stir-fry. A stir-fry consists of many steps such as browning the meat (i.e., chicken or beef strips) plus slicing carrots, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers, etc. Then sautéing these veggies and then bringing it all together with a sauce. Because everything gets cooked so quickly, you must have all your ingredients ready to go.
Can you imagine trying to do all this while in the process of cooking it? Sounds a little cray cray, right?
So why not apply mise en place to your daily cooking. From easily assembling a sandwich to an extravagant three-course dinner for six.
Practice this one skill and “put everything in place” before you get started, your OWN 5 O'CLOCK RUSH will be much smoother, your dishes will turn out better and cooking might become something you enjoy instead of loathe. ;)