As an enthusiastic home cook, I marvel at the systematic, measured manner that professional chefs work, primarily because I’m the complete opposite, as my family will attest.
Mise en place is a French cheffy term that means “everything in its place”. The idea is that you spend time preparing your ingredients, chopping, grating, measuring and portioning so that when all the elements and equipment are in place, you can focus on cooking the dish. It’s efficient and crucial in commercial kitchens and can mean the difference between success and having patrons walk out.
I’m certainly not the only one that sees a significant life lesson wrapped up in here?
I promise I won’t try to sell you an ebook at the end of this but hear me out as I flesh out these deliberations. I’m all for spontaneity and believe it’s an essential component for creativity, but I wonder if we’re living in a bubble that overvalues instant gratification and undervalues preparedness. You see, the very nature of preparing and putting “everything in its place” requires that you put in hard graft now for the benefit or reward of doing something that you enjoy later on. I won’t bore you with Googled quotes on preparedness but consider a person you think epitomises success, and I’m confident you will find an ethos that prioritises, considered preparedness. Late nights, early mornings, calloused hands from lifting kettlebells to engaging in tough conversation in relationships of value. The spadework is never easy and without scars but the accomplishments leave you feeling fulfilled. Neuroscientists refer to the pleasure-pain balance; our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. While this may seem like a great idea from an evolutionary point of view, the constant aversion to pain or discomfort has a mitigating effect on goal setting and purpose, among other grave implications.
In similar fashion, the Stoics believe that when you face a negative circumstance, you lean into it, instead of avoiding it. This practice has many benefits, including the ability to build resilience.
I don’t want to overstate my case but the below recipe for my mixed mushroom risotto is more than just an elegant midweek meal, perhaps it’s a lesson in mindfulness and preparation. Oh, and a lightly oaked buttery chardonnay pairs perfectly with this dish.
Mixed Mushroom Risotto
- 250g arborio rice
- 1.5l vegetable or chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion or shallot, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½ cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
- 250g button mushrooms
- 150g mixed exotic mushrooms
- 50g dried porcini mushrooms, hydrated in boiling water (optional)
- 3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
- Black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- Salt to taste, and loads of pepper
- Add olive oil to a heavy base pot on medium heat. Add sliced button and the hardier exotic varieties such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Depending on the types of exotic mixed mushrooms that you have, any delicate mushrooms, such as shimeji can be carefully separated keeping them whole and added just before the others are cooked as they cook fast. When all the mushrooms are cooked, remove to a bowl and set aside.
- In the same pot, you can add a touch more oil if needed. Throw in diced onions or shallots, thyme and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant.
- Add the arborio rice and coat well with the fragrant garlicky oil and onion. You want to toast the rice for two minutes or until pale yellow.
- Deglaze with the vermouth or white wine and cook until mostly absorbed. Add a ladle of warm stock, and stir. Pour in the hydrated porcinis, including the steeping liquid, making sure to discard silt at the bottom of the bowl. Adding single ladles of stock until absorbed, cook until rice is al dente, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continuously stirring will allow the rice to release its starch, giving your risotto a creamy, silky texture.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the set aside mixed mushrooms, Parmesan, butter, chopped parsley and any leftover stock. Serve.