Professional chefs work differently to home cooks. This is a lesson you learn very early on in a restaurant kitchen.
Working a successful service relies on a number of key practices but chief amongst these is doing one’s meez before the first ticket comes in.
Meez , short for mise en place, a French term for ‘putting in place’, means getting everything ready to go so you aren’t faffing around chopping vegetables when you should really be concentrating on cooking that sea bass for table 14.
It is getting everything how you want it, where you want it so when the time comes all you have to do is cook.
Whilst this is good working practice for a professional environment, it is a lesson I’ve brought home with me as well. I approach cooking differently, first doing any peeling or butchery then moving onto chopping and the like.
Only when everything is ready to go, do I start cooking. This actually cuts down the time spent in the kitchen and means that hands on cooking is as swift and smooth as possible.
More importantly it means there isn’t a mountain of washing up to do after dinner because all the clearing up is done as you go along – another lesson you learn very quickly in professional kitchens.
A chef friend of mine put it rather more succinctly. ‘The six Ps,’ he said when we were talking about cooking for paying customers. I looked at him blankly. ‘Proper preparation prevents poor performance.’
‘That’s only five,’ I replied. ‘Five Ps.’
‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘I gave you the clean version. Commis chefs get the six P chat. Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.’
And he’s right.
One dish that really benefits from this approach is a stir-fry when you have a matter of just a few minutes to actually cook everything and Phad Thai is a real favourite. Last time I visited the family, my sister asked me the best way to cook this. I gave her a little lesson but neglected to write down the recipe so, Ellen – this one’s for you.
Ellen’s Phad Thai
The key flavourings are palm sugar (although you could sub in brown sugar) for sweetness, tamarind and lime for sourness, fish sauce and soy for saltiness and chillies for heat.
The core philosophy of Thai food is ensuring these are balanced so feel free to play with quantities as you see fit: There are no rules – it is a dish from the streets of Bangkok. It is fast, filling and very tasty indeed.
Ingredients are listed in the order they should be cooked
Cooking oil (2-3 tablespoons)
½ carrot, sliced into thin strips
½ onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
Tablespoon of pickled radish or pickled turnip (you should find this in your friendly local Chinese supermarket)
Fresh red chillies, finely sliced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
10-15g palm sugar
2 tablespoons of tamarind
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
100g rice noodles, cooked in boiling water
1 egg, beaten
Tablespoon of peanuts, roasted and roughly ground
Tablespoon of dried shrimp
Finely shredded spring onion
Finely shredded red chillies
Roasted and ground peanuts
Once the first ingredient goes into the hot oil this dish is about two minutes away from the plate so you have to work quickly. Get all your ingredients ready to go and set up in order – this is your mise en place. Congratulations, you are now a chef.
Heat up a wok so it is good and scorching. Add the oil then tip in the onion, garlic, carrot, chillies and pickled radish (or turnip). Move around the wok then add the flavourings: tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and soy stir well then add the cooked noodles. Coat with the sauce then make a well in the centre and add the egg. Let it cook, scramble it and incorporate it into the dish.
Sprinkle in the dried shrimp and peanuts, stir one last time and spoon into bowls. Garnish with bean sprouts, spring onions, chillies and peanuts then feel free to go crazy with the seasonings to pep up the dish to your own personal tastes. Finely chopped bird’s eye chillies in fish sauce is a real favourite that always brings back the memory of Thailand.
Who needs a takeaway?