Cooking 101: Mise en Place
Don’t be afraid – you’re going to LOVE this tip.
I learned a long time ago that weeknight cooking got way less stressful when I started with all (or most) of my ingredients prepped, chopped and measured.
I didn’t know it at the time but there’s actually a term for this technique – called “mise en place” (French for “putting in place”).
You see mise en place in action while watching any of your favorite cooking shows. All or most of the ingredients for the recipe are chopped, sliced or otherwise readied and sitting in cute little bowls, so all the chef has to do is start tossing, sauteing, stirring. It gives the illusion that cooking is quick, easy and effortless but we all know that there’s a crew of minions behind the scenes doing all of that prep work prior to the show.
But just because you don’t have a staff you should still – whenever possible – prepare your mise en place prior to cooking:
It saves time – it may seem like extra work but you actually streamline the process by taking the time up front to prepare your ingredients.
It lessens stress – once your pan is hot, you want to be ready to go with minimal pauses. I’ve had garlic burn because I didn’t realize that I had to chop the peppers right away.
It reduces clean up – this may be my own personal thing, but I find that getting rid of all the peels, wrappers and trimmings before I begin (and pouring myself a glass of wine too) makes the actual cooking even more enjoyable.
The following recipe is a perfect example of how mise en place can make a complex recipe much simpler. There are many components and steps to this dish that could make for a hectic cooking experience – and an exhausted cook. But if you take the time to ready and combine the ingredients prior to cooking, the cooking itself becomes almost effortless. For instance, the 4 tablespoons of garlic – used in two separate steps – are chopped and combined with their appropriate partners. And the tomatoes, wine and seasonings are measured and placed together in a bowl prior to beginning.
It takes a few tries to get used to this way of cooking, but once you do you will find that it’s the way to go.
What kind of cook are you? Do you chop and slice as you go? Or do you set up everything in advance? And do you do things differently when you are cooking, versus baking?
- 1 1/2 lbs. medium shrimp, cleaned
- 1/2 – 1 t. crushed red pepper
- 6 T. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ T. salt
- ¼ c. cognac or brandy
- 4 T. minced garlic (about 12 cloves)
- ½ t. sugar
- 28 oz. diced or chopped tomatoes, drained
- 1 c. white wine
- ¼ c. minced fresh parsley
- 1 lb. linguine
- Set up your “mise en place” (you’ll need two medium bowls and two small bowls):
- In one medium bowl combine the shrimp, half the red pepper, 2 T. olive oil and ¾ t. salt. In the other bowl, combine the remaining red pepper, 3/4 t. salt, sugar, tomatoes and wine.
- In one small bowl combine 3 T. olive oil and 3 T. garlic, and in the other combine 1 T. garlic and the parsley.
- Start cooking:
- Set up a large pot of water to boil.
- Heat a heavy 12” skillet over high heat for 4 minutes. Add shrimp to the skillet and quickly spread in a single layer. Cook, without stirring, for 30 seconds. Take the skillet off the heat; stir to turn shrimps. Add the cognac; let stand for about 5 seconds. Return the skillet to high heat. Wave a lit match over the skillet until cognac ignites; shake the skillet until the flames subside. Transfer shrimp to a clean bowl and set aside.
- Take the empty skillet off the heat; cool for 2 minutes. Return to burner and reduce heat to low. Add the olive oil/garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic foams and is sticky and straw-colored, 5-7 minutes. Add tomato/wine mixture; increase heat to medium-high and simmer until thickened and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Stir in reserved shrimp (and accumulated juices) and the garlic/parsley mixture and simmer until shrimp have heated through, about 1-2 minutes longer. Off the heat stir in remaining 1 T. olive oil.
- While sauce simmers, cook linguine with remaining 1 T. salt till al dente. Drain, reserving 1/3 c. cooking water. Transfer pasta back to pot; add about ½ c. sauce (without shrimp) and 2-3 T. reserved pasta cooking water; toss to coat. Divide pasta among warm serving bowls, top with a portion of sauce and shrimp and serve immediately.