When you’re in the middle of cooking dinner, how do you feel? Are you flustered and stressed?
What does your cutting board look like? Is it covered in half-chopped and unprepped ingredients?
How about your kitchen counter? Is it covered in junk mail and other crap?
Chances are, your mental state is directly linked to how disorganized your work area is. Your cutting board is the physical manifestation of your mindset.
If you want to enjoy cooking more and get better at it, then it’s time to get your shit together. Time to put things in their place.
It’s called mise en place, and it’s been a part of professional cooking for centuries. It’s French, obviously, and translates literally to ‘putting in place’. It’s the practice of prepping through all of your tasks before you start cooking. It’s having everything organized, physically and mentally. It’s setting yourself up for success before you even click on a burner.
The first step in the process is taking back your kitchen. Modern living and home design has made the kitchen the nerve-center. A side effect of this phenomenon is that kitchen countertops become resting places for all manner of non-food related items: mail, keys, handbags, etc. Reclaim your kitchen countertops. Organize another nearby section of your home or apartment and get that crap out of the kitchen. Clear your counters for food prep and keep them that way.
The second step is completely thinking through your dinner plan before you start. Read the recipe a couple times, all the way through. If you’re free-styling, then think through what you’re going to make and identify all of the ingredients it will require. Think about the individual steps and how they relate to each other.
Next, assemble the ingredients that you need and measure them out. Do you need half an onion, finely diced for step 5 of your recipe? Dice that onion now and put it aside. Don’t wait until you’re at step 4 to start cutting.
Pint and half pint containers are very useful for this type of organization. They’re inexpensive and are easy to stack and store. Plus, you can use them to eyeball measurements. A pint is 2 cups, so if your recipe call for a cup of chicken stock, fill your pint container halfway.
Does your recipe call for a mirepoix? Then cut your veggies and scoop them into a pint container. Mince your garlic and put it in a half pint container. Using containers this way will keep you organized and your cutting board clear. It will mean a few more dishes to rinse out in the end, but it’ll be worth it.
Now, when you get ready to start cooking, all of your ingredients will be in pint containers, neatly set aside waiting to be deployed. Just as importantly, your mind will be ready. You will have thought through the steps of your recipe. Your mind will be organized, just like your cooking area.
You will be confident. You will be calm. You will be a better cook.