The most important tool in the modern kitchen may surprise you. It's not a pressure cooker. It's not a sous vide set-up. It's not any one of a collection of unfamiliar ingredients. No, the most important tool you need to be successful in the kitchen is planning.
Chef's like to call this mise en place, a French phrase meaning "get your ducks in a row*." They treat it as a rigid philosophy, and this rigor is essential in a busy restaurant. I don't know that the same level of rigor is necessary in a home kitchen, but you must be able to think at least one or more days ahead. Thinking ahead requires a little more work upfront, but it will save you time and money in the long run. A lot of people are put off by this step when I tell them how we cook, but a little bit of patience is worth it for incredible food.
Let me give you a few examples.
Friday pizza night is one of our family traditions. When do we start preparing for it? Tuesday night. Yep, before we go to bed on Tuesday night, we mix up a batch of dough and stick it in the fridge (actually, we typically make enough dough for three pizzas and then freeze two of them for later). When Friday rolls around, we toss the dough, slap on the toppings, and throw it into a blazing hot oven. Three days sounds like a long time to wait, but it results in an incredible crust that is so much better than any of the local pizzerias. And remember, you do nothing over the course of the three days.
Another great example is beef short ribs cooked sous vide. You cook these for 72 hours at a relatively low temperature. Again, you need to wait 3 days, but you will crave these for months. There just isn't another way to attain such a flavorful, tender, vegetarian-aspiration-destroying piece of meat. (Note: The vast majority of sous vide recipes don't take very long, so don’t be turned off by the method. This is one major exception).
Do you ever brine meat? You will soon if you stick around. A dunk in brine the night before takes 5 minutes to set up. And since we'll be cooking many meats sous vide, you'll find that having the meat pre-bagged means that it's ready for cooking the next day.
Here's another simple one. Soak dried beans the night before you need to use them. The pressure cooker will then prep them in less than 10 minutes when you need them. Plus, you'll have freshly cooked beans which taste better and cost less than their canned counterparts. Starting the soak only takes 2 minutes, but it requires you to plan ahead.
In the next post, we'll use an easy recipe that shows how a few minutes of planning makes for great hummus.
*This may not actually be true.