As Mark Scarbrough explains, a lot of people know about “mise-ing” their recipes (as in the term mise en place) by getting the ingredients ready ahead of time, but not a lot of people know about “mise-ing” their kitchen.
What does he mean by that? Bruce Weinstein explains that it means setting up your kitchen so that everything is within reach. The area where you do most of your prepping should have easy access to knives and measuring cups so that “you’re not digging around for what you need.” This means having wooden spoons near your stove, where you’ll use them, instead of across the kitchen in a drawer.
Though Weinstein admits it’s a constant struggle to keep an often-used kitchen in order, he says it will pay off in the long run to keep it organized and “mise-ed,” because you’ll be able to cook faster.
“Want to be a quick cook? Learn how to stir-fry.” Weinstein says that the book has dedicated a whole chapter to this cooking method because it’s so fast. Because people's biggest complaint about stir-frying is the time-consuming chopping of vegetables and proteins, he suggests buying the ingredients already cut, saving about 20 minutes. A lot of supermarkets sell these products and label them as “stir-fried” beef, scallions, vegetables, ginger, etc. So, as he puts it, “Let the supermarket do the work for you.”
Like buying your stir-fry ingredients pre-cut, using pre-made sauces and condiments is another way to cut back on time. Scarbrough explains that they liken Chinese condiments to the long reductions found in French sauces (with Chinese flavors, of course). The hoisin sauce that you're buying has been cooked for four hours or so and is then bottled and ready to use. Using soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin, and other pre-made sauces can add levels and levels of flavor, so you can get a complex and interesting sauce by just using a few ingredients.
As Weinstein and Scarbrough say in the book, “Embrace Convenience — but Examine It.” What they mean is that convenience foods and products can be really helpful, but you need to make sure that the “only things that are in there are things that you would put in when you’re cooking. Then, you can easily let the supermarket do the cooking for you.” Make sure to read the labels and see what ingredients are in there, especially for items like broth.
They suggest turning to the salad bar when you’re really short on time because there are things there that are already chopped — like onions, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. It is a little more expensive, they admit, but that’s because the work is done for you. But if time is your excuse for not cooking, then you should go for it. Or, alternatively, they suggest buying frozen vegetables. “They are a perfectly good substitute and they are, for the most part, washed and chopped.” Plus, they might even be fresher than what’s available to you, depending on the season.
Ever made a main course and then realized that you didn't have enough food? Weinstein recommends a quick dish of sautéed spinach with red chile flakes to round out the meal because spinach cooks in about two minutes. “All you have to do is heat a little olive oil in the pan, add the chile flakes to season the oil, and then add your spinach.” Or, try making one of Scarbrough’s favorite dishes (pictured at left), which includes roasted cauliflower florets, chickpeas, and olives. (It's super quick and you can buy the florets pre-cut.)
Instead of making plain peas with butter, prepare some couscous (it cooks in just five minutes) and add some peas, spices, and a little stock and you’ll have a fabulous dish in no time!
“Your pantry cannot exist without canned beans. You can use them in salads, toss them in with roasted shrimp, or whip them up in a food processor and make a dip or bean burgers.” Herbs are always essential to have on hand, though some dried herbs carry better than others — Scarbrough would argue more for dried oregano and thyme over basil and parsley.
Weinstein suggests keeping spice blends on hand, such as Cajun or Italian blends, because that will save you from having to find six different jars and combine them together.
As Scarbrough and Weinstein emphasize, it’s important to expand your notion of the pantry. “It isn’t just the cabinet above your stove. It’s also your refrigerator and freezer.” Having eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, and milk on hand means you can do a lot of cooking without going to the store. Stock your freezer with staples like frozen shrimp because it defrosts faster than chicken breasts and cooks faster, too. Plus, you have plenty of recipe options to make, like the one pictured at left.
"Mise-ing" the kitchen also includes the refrigerator. For example, you should place your milk in front of lesser used condiments like hoisin sauce (unless you are making a lot of stir-fries). Whatever your style is, organize your refrigerator to make the items you use the most easily accessible, and bury the ones that you use less often in the back.
Weinstein advises every quick cook to have a a sharp knife and an instant-read meat thermometer. Many home cooks don't think they'll need one, but it will help to ensure that you never have to bring a roast to the table, cut it open, see it's raw, and have to put it back in the oven. Also on this list are kitchen shears, helpful for quickly snipping herbs (saving you time from taking out a cutting board and using a knife) and large mixing bowls — they're great for combining ingredients, as well as for many other things.
For Scarbrough, it's essential to have clean kitchen towels so that he can make sure to clean up after himself as he goes. This will save you time cleaning up later, when the messes have hardened up.
Their last words of advice? You should institute a rule in your house that the person who cooks is not the person who cleans up. It's the best reason to be a quick cook — it will get you done and out of the kitchen faster. Good luck and enjoy!