Learning how to cook is a life long process that is rewarding and challenging! Maybe you’ve been inspired by such channels as the Food Network. Or maybe you have a favorite chef. Learning the cooking basics will help you build a good solid base from which to spring board into the depths that this profession has to offer. The Culinary Cook guides you on this journey by providing you with the knowledge and skills that the professionals learned from in hopes that you will realize your love of cooking. In this article we explore the cooking basics of the professionals and instill the right foundational knowledge for you to begin your journey!
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Mise en Place
Mise en place (or “Meeze”) is the first skill within cooking basics learned in culinary school and has to relate to your entire organizational ability when it comes time to get down and dirty. Mise en place translates to everything in place. Everything has it’s place, and to organize yourself before you begin to start cooking requires the presence of mind to fully embrace the idea of Mise en Place.
We can relate Mise en Place as due diligence in cooking. It means reading your recipe before you start. It means gathering your ingredients. It means prepping all ingredients and having them ready to go. It means preparing your day in advance. It means doing today what needs to be done tomorrow. It means properly calculating your portioning. The number of people you’re serving.
In the culinary industry, mise en place also encompasses your line. It means having everything prepped and ready to go for service in easily accessible places. A proper mise ensures you’re not running around looking for garlic while your prawns are burning in the pan. A proper mise en place ensures you are reducing as much stress as possible when you are cooking. It is foundational cooking basics. You will always be able to notice the cook who has put zero thought into his mise en place when he’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off with his face looking like it’s ready to explode. A proper cook will look busy, but will also be calm and collected. All that extra time he or she spent preparing to cook can now be focused into the cooking and perfection of the dish.
For home users, a proper mise en place means gathering and measuring out your ingredients, prepping and having them easily accessible before cooking. Once your mise is complete, you can begin cooking. You will find out that your experience between no mise and full mise en place is night and day.
Remember that to be successful, you must imitate success. This begins with understanding the proper organizational skills and implementing them. Mise en place is the difference between an amateur cook and a professional!
Mirepoix (meer-pwa) is an vital combination that every cook must know. It is the foundation of many sauces, stocks and flavorings. Mirepoix is a timeless classic that has a fresh, flavorful aroma. It is one of my favorite smells personally and I’m sure you’ll learn to love it as much as I do.
Mirepoix consists of 3 ingredients: Carrot, onion, and celery. These 3 ingredients combine in proportion. The ratio for mirepoix is:
- 25% Carrot
- 25% Celery
- 50% Onion
Anytime you see a recipe stating mirepoix as an ingredient (Such as, 200g Mirepoix), you will know the proportional ratios of each ingredient. Simple, flavorful, excellent. When you are winging a recipe or idea in your head, always consider mirepoix for your base. It adds depth and you cannot get the special type of flavor this combination gives you from anything else.
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Some advanced recipes will only use a portion of mirepoix or use a variation of mirepoix, such as celery and carrot only. Or stocks that omit carrot entirely. The reasoning behind this is that this combination of ingredients has a certain coloring property to it. A “white mirepoix” consists of omitting the carrot and substituting leeks and mushrooms.
A variation of mirepoix exists, called a matignon. This is your standard mirepoix, but with added ham.
While mirepoix is a foundational flavor (One of the most common), there are other variations as well. Sometimes you’ll want a different flavor base for your dish, and in such cases you’ll want to consider other flavoring as well.
Flavoring ingredients can include items such as white mushrooms, leeks, garlic, shallots, tomatoes, and celeriac. These have mild, foundational flavoring properties and should be experimented in different combinations to complete your dish. Not all vegetables are suitable for laying a foundation of flavor, however, and you should be cautious of what you throw into your dish. Some ingredients have overpowering flavors, such as fennel, turnip, peppers, and so on. Others will impart a bitter flavor, such as cabbage. Some will affect color – beets for example. Certain types of root vegetables contain large quantities of starches and can cloud your dish such as potatoes.
A rich, flavorful base is paramount to a delicious tasting dish. Experiment with other variations of flavors, and use your newly acquired knowledge to make educated decisions!