I am still floating on the afterglow of last weekend’s Knot Hysteria Gourmet Retreat.
You may know by now that I am a firm believer that a little preparation and quality ingredients go a long, long way toward producing great results. I find this to be true in many areas of life, and particularly in food and fiber – and my beliefs were strengthened exponentially during the retreat.
I deeply appreciated Chef Dan’s emphasis on and coaching of “mise en place” – the pre-work of cooking. He spent a good part of our first session teaching about what mise en place means and the importance of it when you are cooking – particularly for large quantities, but even for when we returned home and were cooking for a dinner party or just ourselves.
Mise en place is the process of preparing all of your ingredients properly and appropriately ahead of time. This enables a streamlined approach for the chef during the actual cooking process.
And Chef Dan was very right – I was watching different stations during the day, and I could easily see the difference between those who had properly executed mise en place and those who hadn’t. It wasn’t Zen vs. Bedlam, but it wasn’t too different from that either.
I’m guessing you can celebrate with me when I share that our team’s meal included Theo’s chocolate, Parmigiano Reggiano, Copper River salmon, true cave-aged Roquefort from France, Holmquist farms hazelnuts, and freshly-picked salad greens and English peas from a local farm.
It also included butter.
Lots and lots of butter.
There were over two pounds of butter in the decadence we made. But what really freaked me out was the Beurre Blanc.
It started like this: I’d worked with two other fabulous ladies, Lisa and Heather, to turn those Holmquist hazelnuts into cayenne candied garnishes for the salad.
That work took almost no time, so quickly we were looking for another task. Chef Dan wandered by and split us between stations, and I was sent to begin the Beurre Blanc.
Mindful of my mise en place, I started to gather sauce pans, whisks, spatulas, and shallots. I carried all of these items to the station and set them up. Then my new team-mates, Karen and Rebecca, reviewed our list and scattered to find the final items. My job? Get the butter.
I went to the supply shelves and spied the two and a half blocks of butter sitting there.
At that point, I was forced to turn to one of our leads, Chef Dave, and utter words I could hardly believe: “We’re going to need more butter. Lots more butter.” Chef Dave: “How much more?” Me: “Two pounds.”
That’s right. Beurre Blanc for 23 portions: Four pounds of butter. Whoa.
Karen and I minced shallots and started the reduction. Rebecca pulled yeoman’s duty and cut up those huge bricks of butter into tablepoon-ish sized pieces.
(Perspective is everything – In the top picture, that’s a one cup measure and a 2-gallon plastic container filled with shallots. The cutting board was at least 24″ long. Trust me… that was a HUGE pile of butter.)
Chef Dan returned to oversee our efforts, and the next words out of his mouth were “It’s my job today to show you how to add as much butter to this Beurre Blanc as is humanly possible.”
Right there, I knew I’d found my happy place.
And with Chef Dan’s guidance, we were a blazing success. Into just a tablespoon or two of reduction we melted and whisked piece after piece of butter, pound after pound. By the time we’d finished (gauged by Chef Dan’s speedy taste and crisp proclamation “You’re DONE”), we’d managed to cram about three and a half pounds of butter into those two pans of sauce.
We poured the whole thing into a chinoise and pressed every last bit of butter through the mesh. We had an incredible, delicate, piquant butter sauce.
Ah, beautiful success.