Friday, January 8, 2010

Part 1, Lesson 2: Mise En Place

Part 1: "I Don't Know How To Cook"
Lesson 2: Mise En Place
Recipe: Lo Mein (Master File 2)

A common mistake people make is just diving straight into a recipe without reading it first.  They'll get something started on the stove and -- oh crap, there's some time-consuming step they need to finish right away before whatever is on the stove burns to a crisp.  Read every recipe before you begin.

Did you notice on the last recipe that all of the chopping and cutting was done before any actual cooking took place?  This is called mise en place ("meez en plaahs") and it's very important for quick cooking things like stir-fry.  You should have all your ingredients and equipment out, in place, and ready to go.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of mise en place, especially if you've got a family buzzing around distracting you while you're trying to cook.

Let's talk about lo mein, or at least the American version of lo mein.  It's basically stir-fry with noodles.  It's extremely important that every little bit of the ingredients and equipment are prepared before the first drop of oil hits the pan.  Once you get started cooking it will move very quickly and you don't want anything to overcook or burn.

I won't judge you if you use ramen, but it's really not the healthiest option.  In that case you'll be frying noodles that have already been fried.

large pot
chef's knife
cutting board
wok or large frying pan
wooden spoon or spatula to stir with

8 oz pkg lo mein noodles, spaghetti, or 2 packages of ramen (flavor packets discarded)
Any combination of the following vegetables:
   red bell pepper
   mushrooms, sliced
   broccoli, chopped
   baby corn
   bok choy
   edamame, shelled
   snow peas
   bean sprouts
   green onions, green and white parts sliced diagonally into 2" lengths
Protein of your choice: chicken, tofu, shrimp, seitan, tempeh; chopped into 1" cubes (optional)
2 tbsp peanut, canola, or vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp cornstarch
salt and pepper, to taste

Put a large pot of water on over high head.  Keep an eye on it and when it's at a full rolling boil cook your noodles according to the package directions.  Set your timer.  Drain when they're done.  Meanwhile,  get everything else ready.

Wash your veggies.  You don't have to peel your carrots, just make sure they're scrubbed well.  If you're using whole mushrooms, you can either carefully wipe each one with a damp paper towel or say screw it and rinse them under running water and drain well.  They say that mushrooms can get waterlogged if you do this.  I've never experienced this problem, nor have I noticed any difference in flavor, texture, or juiciness when comparing a wiped and rinsed mushroom side-by-side.  Then again, I don't eat raw mushrooms so maybe that's where the difference lies.  If you use baby corn in a can please drain and rinse away the extra sodium.

Combine sesame oil, broth, soy sauce, garlic, and cornstarch.  Set aside.

Start with the carrots.  We're going to julienne these, or turn them into thin matchsticks.  Begin by cutting off a thin sliver from the side of the carrot to create a stable base to set it on.  Cut off the ends.  Cut the carrot into halves or thirds so you have roughly 2-3" lengths.  Cut down each piece lengthwise so you have long planks.  Cut each plank into matchsticks.  Set aside.

Do the same with the red pepper.  See the last recipe for full instructions on seeding and cutting into planks.  Cut the planks into matchsticks and set aside.

Cut the stems off your mushrooms if they're dark or woody.  Slice them and set aside.

I like to separate broccoli into two parts, the green froofy part and the stalk, and treat each as a separate vegetable.  Chop or separate the froofy part into bite-sized florets.  Cut off the bottom woody part of the stalk and peel using a vegetable peeler.  You can eat the leaves so don't worry if you get a few in your stir-fry.  Now cut the stalk into planks and then matchsticks.  Set aside.

Not much you need to do with baby corn except drain and rinse.

Bok choy kind of looks and tastes like a cross between celery and lettuce.  Cut off the root end and chop the whole head crosswise.

To julienne zucchini, shave a little bit off the bottom like you did for your carrot so it doesn't roll around on you.  Slice off the ends, then slice downwards into planks.  Planks into matchsticks.

If you're using frozen edamame, microwave until they're defrosted.  De-shell if necessary.

If your snow peas have stringy ends on them, cut them off.  You probably won't need to since they're so tender.

Please tell me you're using fresh bean sprouts, not canned.  Rinse them very well.  If you're using canned, please note that they will make this whole dish taste like cheap canned chow mein.  That is so not what we're going for here.

Trim the tops of your green onions to get rid of any discolored or dry spots.  Trim off the root but leave as much of the white part as possible.  Slice them (on the diagonal if you're feeling fancy) into 2" lengths all the way down to the white end.

Veggies are ready!  Make sure your noodles are done and drained before you go any further.

Heat a wok or the biggest frying pan you have over medium-high heat.  Put 2 Tbsp peanut/canola/vegetable oil in there and swirl it around to coat.  Stir-fry the vegetables in the order listed above, one at a time, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

Push off to the side and stir-fry your protein until cooked.  Alternately, if your wok or pan is too small for this, you can cook the protein before the veggies, remove, and return it to the pan with the noodles.

Add noodles and sauce.  Stir everything around until sauce begins to boil, then lower heat and simmer until thick, about 5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can garnish with additional chopped green onions and crushed red pepper if you like.

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