Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Do 30-minute Meals Exist: Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Artichoke and Capers
I missed the entry to Too Many Chefs 30-minute meals challenge. While I like the concept of quick and tasty meals, I think we need to talk about this a bit. Have you ever read the timing on a recipe (20 minutes active time, 30 minutes cook time) and based your dinner party off of that? Two hours late, things are coming out one at a time, at the wrong time?
To use my child's endless refrain for everything, "What happened?"
Simply this. Those prep times are based on an experienced cook who possesses one piece of equipment and two skills that most home cooks do not. Can this secret be so simple? Yes, yes it is. Master this, and you will be on your way to 30-minute meals that really are 30 minutes. It makes me a bit disheartened to see so many cookbooks and recipes and so few provide this basic information.
Here we go. The first skill is referred to in the culinary world as mise en place. This oh-so-sexy French phrase means "put in place." All this refers to is for you to do all your measuring and chopping and ingredient prep at the start of the recipe. This allows you to work carefully, and have all the ingredients ready. Once the burner goes on, you may not be able to juggle prep and cooking without screwing up or forgetting something. Mise en place allows you to work efficiently. Which means a lot with kids underfoot, dinner guests loitering in the kitchen and a lot of different recipes in the works.
The piece of equipment? A chef's knife, otherwise known as a French knife. You want a good one. Balanced, sharp, a decent piece of German or Japanese steel. It will set you back a hundred bucks or so, ouch. But it will last a lifetime, and you will wonder how you ever got along without a decent knife. It really makes that much difference.
The other skill is learning how to use that knife. Chefs know how to get a vegetable chopped with the fewest cuts and in the fastest and safest way. Like mise en place, it's all about efficiency. I am hoping to post some knife skill videos here in the future, but in the meantime, Food Network has a few good ones. The most important cuts to learn are how to cut an onion, julienne/dicing, and chiffonade. It just takes a bit of practice and you will notice drastic improvement in your prep speed.
Ready for a 30-minute dish? Here you go.
Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Artichokes and Capers
Looking for this recipe? It will be part of an upcoming book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.