Mise en Place
One of the first things chefs and cooks are taught in culinary schools and restaurants is the french concept of mise en place, which basically translates to “everything in its place”. Whether it be a massive commercial kitchen with dozens of employees, a small mom and pop’s diner with two people that run the whole show, or someone who’s just learning to cook at home, staying organized is crucial to creating a positive and delicious experience with food. Mise en place is achieved when your kitchen is clean, the ingredients for your recipe are all collected and readily available, the equipment and utensils needed to cook are easily accessible, and you’ve reviewed your recipe and procedure before you start cooking. Not only are you making sure everything is in its place, but you’re also mindful of where things will eventually end up as well! Keep in mind that mise en place isn’t just about keeping organized, it’s equally about keeping clean and following food safety guidelines.
A perfect example of mise en place from an organizational and safety perspective would be making a chicken stir fry.
In this scenario, you would first dice some ginger, scallions, garlic, chilies, and cilantro put them aside into bowls, and then start preparing the raw chicken. However, if you started with the chicken, you would then have to clean your cutting board before preparing the vegetables to prevent any cross-contamination of raw chicken! No one wants a garnish of fresh cilantro leaves covered with raw chicken juices on their stir fry!
Salty fingers and muscle memory
If you’ve watched any kind of cooking show on TV then you’ve definitely seen chefs use their fingers to season their food with salt. Many of you may think “how on earth do they know how much salt they are using without measuring it”. Well, just like anything, practice makes perfect, and I strongly recommend you start practicing!
Salting food with your fingers is actually a lot easier, faster, and more efficient than using table salt out of the shaker. The problem with fine table salt, or iodized salt, is that when it’s coming out of a shaker it’s harder to gauge how much you’re using unless you measure it out, it’s generally slower, the holes tend to get jammed in humid environments, and it’s actually easier to make food too salty! Most savory recipes call for kosher salt, which is much more coarse than table salt, and believe it or not, a teaspoon of kosher salt is less salty than a teaspoon of table salt! Weird right? Since table salt granules are so fine, much more of it can fit into a teaspoon, with less room between each one.
The size and feel of kosher salt granules can vary from company to company, so when you first get started I would recommend finding a box of kosher salt from a brand you prefer, and stick with it until you develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is when you do something without thinking twice about it! Eventually, you will be able to reach into your kosher salt container and pick up the perfect amount of salt to put on one side of a ribeye steak because you know how wide to spread your fingers, how many fingers to use, and how deep to go into the salt. From there, you’ll be able to evenly spread the salt on the steak by gently loosening your grip. I assure you this won’t happen overnight, but it won’t take too long to master either. As you practice using your fingers to salt your food, keep in mind that you can always add more salt, but you can’t take it away!
Degreasing soap and smelly sponges
There is nothing worse than washing dishes, to later find out you just have to wash them again because they are still covered in grease from meats and cooking oils! The inner hippie in me has tried every natural dish soap I could find, for the sake of the environment and my skin, but many of them fail miserably at degreasing dishes. The other issue I’ve found with many dish soap brands is that regardless of their amazing degreasing abilities, many of them make my sponges smell terrible after only a couple of days of use! Throughout my years incessantly cleaning my kitchen while cooking (remember, mise en place) I’ve found two brands that get rid of the grease and never create stinky sponges! I’ll preface by saying that I have absolutely no connection to these brands and I’m not getting paid to recommend them, I’m just sharing what I know works because degreased dishes and lovely smelling sponges make a more positive kitchen, which is what I want you to have. Dawn dish soap would be the most affordable and accessible, and Mrs. Meyers would be the most environmentally friendly and natural! These two brands are great for getting all that ribeye fat off your cutting board or olive oil out of your MagicalButter Machine, and your sponge won’t smell like a wet, moldy basement in two days either!
Heat-resistant spoons and spatulas
Have you ever made some scrambled eggs or caramelized some onions and left your spatula in the pan, only to come back to melting plastic and third-degree burns?! Well, if you’ve ever had a little too much “oregano” and got distracted from cooking like I have, then you’ve probably melted a spatula or grabbed a wicked hot handle and burned your hand pretty damn good!
In commercial kitchens, the materials that many utensils are made out of are very different than those you can buy in the kitchen department of most big box department stores, and even high-end kitchen boutiques. Most utensils made for commercial use are made out of stainless steel or heat-resistant plastic, rubber, and silicone, and they can handle a lot more heat than your average home utensil. I would highly recommend adding some heat-resistant spatulas and spoons to your home utensil drawer because they will last a lot longer and minimize the opportunity for burnt plastic and burnt hands!
Three towels to rule them all!
The towels you have in your kitchen should all have a purpose and they shouldn’t be used for anything else… unless they are ready! I always have three towels in my kitchen that are strictly used for very separate things, until they are spent and are ready to move on. This whole process was inspired by watching too many people use dirty towels to dry their hands or clean dishes… gross!
The first towel is only used to dry my clean hands, the second is used to dry/clean dishes, and the third is used for cleaning my workspace and wiping my hands with if they have food on them. I'll sometimes even add a fourth towel just for messes on the floor.
Whenever I’m cooking a larger meal, I generally go through a couple of towels, but I like to put them into a rotation of sorts, so I’m not doing too much laundry. Whenever I’m done with my hand or dish drying towels, they become workspace towels. If my workspace towel gets too dirty, it generally hits the floor to clean up anything that may fall to the group, or the excessive amount of water that my German Shepherd likes to drip all over the floor after her last sip of water. My clean hand towel is generally at the hip of my apron, the dish town is hanging on the stove handle, the wipe towel is to the right of the kitchen sink, and the floor towel is on the floor! Once a towel becomes a floor towel, I hit it with some degreasing dish soap, wash it in the sink first, and then throw it in the washer!
I realize this may seem a bit OCD or weird, but I’m totally okay with that! I’m definitely OCD about keeping a clean kitchen because I worry about cross-contamination, and I’m always thinking about mise en place!
Your palm doesn’t tell you what medium-rare feels like!
If you’ve ever researched how to detect the doneness of a steak, you’ve most likely come across a YouTube video explaining that you can touch the base of your thumb and palm, depending on which fingers are together, and compare it to the feel of a steak to determine it’s doneness. Well, this is TOTAL RUBBISH and this is why!
The first thing you need to consider is that every steak cut has a different type of feel to it. Pressing on a medium-rare ribeye will feel totally different than a medium-rare NY Strip, filet mignon, flank, or any other steak! Even if you were comparing the feel of one ribeye to another, they could feel differently based on which end of the rib they came from due to the size of the spinalis dorsi (fat cap) from the chuck side of the ribs. Other things that will determine how a steak feels include the thickness of the cut, whether it was cold or at room temperature when cooked, the type of cooking method, whether it was salted or not, and what part of the meat you’re touching.
The other thing you need to consider with this touchy-feeling steak fiction is that the palm of your dominant hand will feel different than the other, and will definitely be different than other people as well. This whole idea that if you connect your thumb finger to your pointer finger and press on the palm of your thumb and you’re going to magically feel what rare or medium-rare feels like, totally omits the differences in muscle and skeleton structure of humans!
The only way you’re going to get used to what a medium-rare steak feels like is if you cook that same kind of steak, prepared and cooked the same way, over and over again until you start to develop muscle memory. Until you have the ability to do so, I would recommend utilizing modern technology and get yourself a heat-safe meat thermometer. You can even use the thermometer included with your Magical DecarBox!
Chef's Tip: Be sure to remove your steak from the heat about 10 degrees lower than your desired final temperature. If you want a medium-rare steak to finish around 135°F, then you’d want to cook it to about 125-127°F and then let it rest for about 5-7 minutes!
Check out some of my delicious recipes right here on MagicalButter: