Tell me if this sounds familiar. It's Wednesday evening. Hump day. You're tired and pissed at your boss but still determined to make a delicious homemade meal for your family. Let's say, oh, maybe a nice juicy pork roast redolent of rosemary with roasted vegetables.
Then you realize...damn! I forgot to take the roast out of the freezer to thaw before work. So the whole sear-and-stick-garlic-cloves-in-slits thing isn't going to work out so well. If you slam it in the oven still frozen, well! Ever heard a pig cry? And then there's all the vegetable prep to do. Ugh.
So it's frozen pizza for supper...again. Not that the kids will mind.
How do they do it? How do professional chefs and cooks produce magnificent food in great variety day after day, year after year on schedule and beautifully plated?
Meez, Baby. Meez!
I first heard the word "meez" years ago while watching MasterChef. If memory serves, Gordon Ramsay dropped the meez bomb while judging the onion chopping Preliminary Elimination Round. For some inexplicable reason, the word made my antennae quiver. I knew it was important! Here at last was one of the clues I sought for making fine cuisine at home.
"Meez" is an American bastardization of the French phrase "mise en place" pronounced /meeze awn pless/. It literally means "putting in place" or "everything in its place." Now that appeals to my OCD.
The best explanation I've ever read is, of course, by Anthony Bourdain. Recently, Michael and I have been vicariously traveling the world with Tony via No Reservations and I was shocked one day to hear Michael sigh, "Damn! I wish he wasn't gone. I like that guy." They are awfully similar. No filter. No bull$sh*t. Love liberty. Hate ABBA. Discriminating palates. Great cooks! Hate sports. Renaissance men. Sentimental streak a mile wide (well hidden, of course.)
But I digress.
In the chapter entitled Who Cooks? of the book that catapulted Tony to fame, Kitchen Confidential, he gives us an in-depth and entertaining explanation of meez. The interesting thing is that it's not just food. So I'm gonna shut up, get a cup of coffee and let Anthony talk as he so eloquently and profanely does.
Oh my OCD!
But let's get down to brass tacks. What, specifically, is included in a professional chef's meez that makes their cooking appear so much easier than mine? Anthony lists the following:
From reading Kitchen Confidential we can safely add to that list clean cutting boards (secured to your countertop with non-skid rubber as we discussed in Four Kitchen Hacks,) sharp (and I mean sharp!) knives, homemade stock (for sauces), partially-cooked proteins, demi-glace, hours-old Hollandaise and other sauces. Oh! And one more thing: lots of clean dry towels and keep 'em coming, please.
But all-of-the-above may not be practical for a home cook. It would sure cut down on the frustration in cooking ("Oh, damn! I forgot to mince garlic cloves!") but I tried to meez recently and, well, it didn't go so hot.
Fancying myself very to-the-kitchen-born, I finely minced onions, tomatoes and capers to top my morning bagel-with-smoked-herring. A few days passed and I was nonplussed to find a slimey unappetizing mess of used-to-be-onions-tomotoes-and-capers swimming around the bottom of their Rubbermaid. So much for my meez.
My mom had her own version of meez. Every few weeks, she would roughly chop enough yellow onions to fill two gallon Ziploc bags and pop 'em in the freezer door. To this day, the smell of frozen onions is a massive olfactory trigger for me. By processing onions en masse she only cried once, but the onions weren't chopped with finesse, they weren't fresh and both the freezer and fridge reeked of onions. The cheese especially absorbed that smell.
A well-prepared meez is how professional kitchens can churn out hundreds of delicious meals in record time. They're basically doing every possible prep before Hurricane Lunch and Hurricane Supper hit so meals can be completed with a minimum of frustration.
That's my mistake. In my rush to cook the protein or get the cooking out of the way, I'm chintzy with my meez and it always comes back to bite me on the bum in frustration, frustration, frustration.
So how can we home cooks prep our meez without wasting precious food and money?
In some ways, we can't. We have to plod along like our mothers and foremothers of yore waving the "eat what's in front of you or go to bed hungry" banner because having meez prepped to make more than one menu at a moment's notice just isn't practical, especially financially. Expensive vegetables cleaned and prepped tend to go bad in record time.
But we can still meez in our own domestic ways. Here are a few of my meez tricks.
Oh! And one more thing...
I stumbled on this idea quite by chance when we ran out of cupboard and shelf space in the kitchen. That's the only downside to having a kitchenalia fetish. (This was before my kitchen cupboards fell off the wall. Long story.)
So I decided to go vertical. I have spoons hanging from my top curtain rod. Measuring cups hanging from my middle curtain rod. Pots, pans, grills, seven colanders, hot pads...you name it...if it can be hung up, it is hung up!
No more struggling to extract a spoon from a tangled kitchen drawer. No more unstacking saucepans to get my favorite one that's always on the bottom of the stack. The best hooks are $2 packages of metal shower rings. Bend 'em open and Bob's your uncle. In a pinch, even bent paperclips will work.
Of course this is a very incomplete addressing of the topic of meez but I hope it was fun, funny and informative.
P.S. If you've enjoyed this recipe, please consider donating $5 to help keep this writer afford interesting ingredients. Thank you! www.gofundme.com/f/reluctant-cook-ingredient-fundraiser
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