Saturday, October 2, 2010

Be Prepared

Several years ago, I worked in the receiving area of a bookstore. On this job I learned the importance of having all necessary items in place before beginning a project. As shipments came in, I’d affix price and item stickers to the book covers and place theft prevention tags inside the books. The receiving area was a bustling place. Everything had to be on hand, accurate, and ready to go, as more shipments would come in almost before I could finish processing the first.

This notion applies to kitchens at every level, from residential to five-star restaurant. Known in top kitchens as mise en scene, or “everything in place,” it entails not only having all ingredients on hand, but also pre-measuring them out in bowls and preparing them if necessary (e.g., washing, chopping). It also means laying out your utensils while you preheat the oven, pots, and pans. Always keep your knives sharpened.

Always read a recipe completely, from ingredient list to final step, before you begin so that you’re thoroughly familiar with the dish and the manner of its preparation. Plan ahead especially if you have to soak dry ingredients like beans or if you have to let bread dough rise. Preheating is essential: you cannot pan sear ingredients in a room-temperature pan, for example, and putting bread dough in an oven that isn’t preheated will always end badly. Following the principle of mise en scene will always save you time and trouble. 

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