Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mis En Place

A French phrase meaning, "putting in place." Ideally, you are supposed to have mis en place, everything laid out and in place, before you start cooking, or so the experts say.

I have been watching Worst Cooks in America (very good, I highly recommend it) in which two chefs try to turn truly gut-wrenching culinary train wrecks into line cooks good enough to fool top food critics. My favorite was a shaved-headed macho man who served the chefs a boiled chicken and laid slices of Swiss cheese on it. Shiver.

To return to the subject of this post, as the chefs have tried to train these cooking catastrophes, they have repeatedly emphasized the importance of mis en place.

I'd like to think that I'm at least a decent cook, but I admit I've never hewed that closely to mis en place. I tend to be a run-to-the-pantry-as-needed kind of guy. It's partly growing up in the 1970s (all organization is creativity-crushing fascism; be free little flower, be free!) and my natural inclination to eschew instructions and try to do it my own way. Plus, I've used as an excuse my desire to get dinner on the table quickly after I get home.

Over the years, I've slowly learned (I can be a little thick) that this is often -- indeed usually -- not the best way to go about things. In my early stir fry days, for example, I would actually try to measure out ingredients as I cooked. You can guess how that worked out.

So I decided in the last week or so to try to do a real mis en place before cooking: get all the ingredients out of the pantry and fridge and lay them out in an organized fashion.

Guess what. It really works. Cooking suddenly becomes much less harried and more methodical allowing greater focus and care.

Mis En Place: It's not just for pros any more.

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