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.


Mike & Misty said...

This is information that wannabe cooks like me need. Thanks!

The Expatriate Chef said...

I get mad that no one ever references these things. Knowing just a few skills can cut prep time by a third or better. It makes a big difference! Thanks.

Alison said...

This is great. And really helpful. Wish we lived in the same place so we could do a cooking show on public access television. You could be a good cook. I'd be your kitchen-dumb side kick who appreciates everything you do and occasionally throws in a barb about the food industry.

Don't you want to move to New England so we could do just that?

Miranda said...

I'm a bit confused about your menu suggestions. My mother taught me way back when that a complete meal should have a protein, a complex carb and plenty of veggies and I still use this as my basic meal template. But your menu on this post involves no carb and the other night when you served chicken, pasta and sweet potatoes, it was all protein and carbs and no green veggies. Is my template outdated?

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks, Alison! I would almost want to move to New England for that reason alone! I do wish you were close! If you ever get in this area, or me up there ... well, it's a date.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Hi Miranda,
The chicken, pasta, sweet potato night was a lazy mom night. The pasta has tomatoes in it, so the veg was both red and orange. The no carb on this menu forgot to put in the whole grain bread we keep as a pantry staple. I usually put half a slice on the kiddo's plate when I don't have a different kind of carb for her. You are right about the need for balance!

Mercedez said...
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