Foodie Tuesday: Nothing Sexier than Proper Mise en Place

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Ready for mirepoix-making?

Let’s face it, I’m as predictable as romantic comedies when it comes to many things, not least of all, choosing the path of least resistance when fixing food. If there’s a shortcut to the shortbread, lemme at it. If there’s a snappier way to trim snap peas, I’m on board with that. But if there’s one thing I know is worth any amount of trouble, it’s prep. It’s not glamorous, I’ll grant you, and sometimes gets mighty tedious, especially when there’s a sizable party or elaborate meal on the horizon. But there is nothing that makes the rest of the time in the kitchen more tolerable, even enjoyable, than having the best of mise en place at my fingertips.

I did my time as a house painter, back in the misty distance, and I learned tout de suite that there was no substitute for careful first steps when it came to a fine finished product; I spent some time laboring backstage and behind the scenes in theatres and found that what’s seen when the curtain’s rung up is about a thousandth of what’s been and being done for the production. Of course, my conductor husband works in a discipline where the inexperienced concert-attendee would be wildly off base to think that all performers do is get up onstage and wave arms or pipe on musical contraptions or flap tongues. Even if they have an inkling that rehearsals are necessary, they haven’t imagined the tiniest increment of blood, sweat and tears that went into a performance. And I’m fairly certain I haven’t come across any other field in which that doesn’t generally hold true. What goes on before-hand is such an essential and formative part of what comes out of the proscenium or oven that sometimes I think we’re guilty of assuming everyone would just plain intuit that. We need to tell the inexperienced what a beautiful thing is that dull seeming preparatory work, what glorious jewels are the salt-cellar and oil bottle and dishes of neatly diced Tasso and shredded Reggiano and chiffonaded basil.

Even the finished dish may not look particularly artistic, unless it’s something generally far more designer-iffic than what I’m likely to produce at my board, but it is an infinitely greater pleasure to prepare and serve food that was made easier to prepare and serve by having arranged for good mise en place in good time. There’s both the initial set of ingredients and tools that ought to be at the ready, and then there’s the lineup of Parts that precedes the final plating for presentation, and both serve to wonderfully streamline the efforts.

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The cranberry-mandarin-maple relish that will add a note of piquancy to the Thanksgiving plate is nothing much to look at, but will add its own essential character to the plate . . .

Part of the effectiveness and pleasure of mise en place for a visual obsessive like me is that it allows me to ‘paint’ with the food, whether in creating the individual dishes or in building the presentation, modest though it might be, by considering not only all of the flavors and practical characteristics of the ingredients but also their colors, shapes, visual textures and other attributes that can contribute to the integrity and–God willing–deliciousness of the whole.

So this is why, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I’ve been brewing broth for gravy, concocting relishes and garnishes, butterflying the turkey and brining it (tomorrow it bathes sous vide, Thursday gets its high-roast crunch on!), roasting potatoes so that they will make heavenly light mash despite the added gallons of cream and pounds of butter, and all of that other ‘peripheral’ stuff. It’s not much to look at, to be sure, but I think I’ll manage to get a pretty fair showing out of it all eventually, because I’m laying the groundwork and setting the foundations first. Amen, let’s eat!

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That's it for today's sage advice.

17 thoughts on “Foodie Tuesday: Nothing Sexier than Proper Mise en Place

  1. I have a real sense of accomplishment when my mise is en place and the cooking experience is so much better and less stressful. May all your mises be en places this week and on the big day.

    • “And also with you!” as I’m saying all of the time lately. I do hope you and your family have a marvelous Thanksgiving, though I could hardly imagine otherwise, in one that loves each other enough to share the cooking so well through the years! All best, John. πŸ™‚

  2. Wow looks like everything was in place before Thursday, sometimes I do that as well during normal days where I prepare dishes like stew a day prior so when I come home the next day its all ready.

    • I’m learning! The other advantage of good prep, of course, is that it spreads the work out over a longer time and puts it in smaller and more manageable increments, all good things for Miss Short Attention Span here.

      A very happy Thanksgiving to you too!

    • It’s not that I’m all that great at it, my friend, it’s that I’ve finally figured out at this advanced age how valuable a skill-set prep is and am *trying* to get better at it. So I’m in the very same boat!

      Knowing enough to try is yet another thing to celebrate at this Thanksgiving! πŸ˜‰

  3. Hmmm, I was just thinking (not driving tho) that when you have a mis en place, cooking becomes just like your husband’s orchestra’s performance. Everything(one) is dressed up and in place ready to work together to make a symphony (of music or food). Lovely observation of yours. I wish I always had this mis en place in place, but often I’m running around like a chicken, er, turkey with.. well, you know!

    • With the exception of a few tyrannically perfectionist super-chefs (people I can’t imagine I would want to be around in the first place), I’m certain there are no real humans capable of hitting the mark with perfect mise every time! So I figure if I work on having it *more often*, that’s pretty reasonable. Must have my scattered moments to balance it all! πŸ˜‰

  4. Pingback: Foodie Tuesday: You Slake Me | kiwsparks

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