Yesterday, I talked about finding inspiration for meals. I think I may have a solution. Where I feel like I’m not being challenged with cooking, I do have quite a bit to perfect.
- Mise en place – Mise en place means “putting in place.” The goal of mise en place is to have everything ready before you start cooking. A great example is a stir fry. The actual process of stir frying is so fast that you wouldn’t have time to start the wok and drop one item in while chopping another. By the time you finished chopping your next ingredient, you may have compromised the texture of what is in your wok or worse, burned your food! I do a decent job preparing for the cooking portion of a recipe. However, I’m far from perfect and could spend a bit more time planning.
- Knife skills – My form is correct. I’ve got some speed. What I don’t always have is a precise chop or mince. My skills could definitely be improved here. One of the things we don’t always hear from our mentors is why consistently sized cuts are important. We hear a lot about form. How to position the hand holding the knife; how to position the hand not holding the knife. Every once in a while we hear why we should be careful to keep our cuts consistent…of why same-sized pieces could at the same rate…
- I could come up with a few hundred points of improvement…however I’m going to start with these.
I realized that my slump is that I’m bored with my current skill set. My goal is going to be to take these two points, mise en place and knife skills, and improve them through cooking on a daily basis.
Tonight, I made Beef & Barley Soup. This recipe, from Cooking Light, turned out quite well. It tested both skills. For mise en place, preparation required the vegetables to be ready to go as soon as the beef had finished browning. Where I’ve never had a complete disaster, I’ve made a few soups/stews like this where I had such a dark crust on the pot from the beef that it was just about burnt. Planning ahead leaves the right amount of heat in the pot and a healthy fond (brown bits of flavor carmelized on the bottom of a pot). Today, I think I nailed it. The broth was very flavorful and without a smoky flavor. As for knife skills, I was tested twice. First, the pieces of chuck roast needed to be cut into 1/2 inch pieces. I’ll give myself a C+ on the cuts today. I need to sharpen by knives and then can be more precise without chopping my fingers off! Second, the cuts of celery and carrots needed to be uniform as they were going to cook in the pot for 2 hours. I think I did a better job with the veggies as nothing turned to mush and nothing was still hard. I encourage you to make this recipe. Not only is it an excellent tasting soup, you can practice your mise en place and knife skills to!