Preparing properly for cooking, or mise en place as we call it in the business, can make the difference between a great dinner and an enjoyable cooking process, or a nightmare.
Most people, when watching a chef at work doing a demonstration or class, will think it looks easy. But, just like in a real restaurant dinner service, this is because a lot of the work has been done hours or even days ahead of time. By chopping, peeling, mincing and blending certain ingredients in good quantity ahead of time, you can make cooking look as easy and go as smoothly as it does for the pros.
Organize Your Kitchen
Another major thing to do is to arrange your kitchen well with a thought to how your movements can flow in the kitchen. Keep the area you’re working in isolated to one part of the kitchen, rather than running back and forth. Have your cutting board and spice rack near to the stove so you can work in one spot. Make sure all the spices you routinely use are accessible and clearly visible. This will help when it comes time to purchase more of them too, preventing you from running out unexpectedly since you can see the level in the jar. The same goes for pots, pans and utensils as well. A well organized kitchen will add minutes of precious time to your cook time that can make a huge difference.
Once you get your kitchen organized, you can move on to figuring out what can be done in advance and what to do later. Sauces and mixed or processed foods such as home made barbecue sauce or cheese spreads or fillings can be done in advance and packed up. Vegetables that are going to be used often such as the classic mirepoix (celery, carrots and onions) can be chopped up all at once and stored in the fridge for use in multiple recipes over several days. This makes clean up easier too if you focus your prep time on one day. You clean the cutting board and preparation area once in stead of several times.
Think about what you can cut up that will keep for a few days – onions, peppers, celery, mushrooms. All these things take a good bit of time to do, and can’t be done while you’re cooking. If you plan your meals out a week or so in advance, it’ll save you a lot of money on shopping, and also allow you to do all your prep work in a day so you can breeze right through cooking. Pack like ingredients in their own containers and portion them out as you need them. This way their flavors wont bleed into each other. You can also make up things like salsa, pasta sauce, etc and just have them around to scoop out whenever you want, add to, and then finish in the pan, saves a lot of time simmering. If you can set aside one day for preparation, you’ll have a week of easy, quick meals ahead of you!