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Tom Valenti: "Prep ahead"


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Interesting comment by Tom Valenti in response to a question.  He enjoys doing basic prep tasks early in the day rather than in a final rush, and says "Prep ahead."

I like the idea.  But I'm always nervous that pre-peeled/chopped/julienned/etc vegetables will curl up, change colour or become otherwise unpalatable if prepped too fra in advance.  Am I over-anxious about this?  Are there general rules, like covering with cold water, or even just plastic wrap, which will allow prepping several hours before cooking?

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While some things such as celery root need to stay in acidulated water, most things can be prepped hours in advance. Even minced herbs, although a rough chop of fresher berbs to add at the end is a good idea.

I usually do extensive prep in the mornings, including par cooking some dishes, for finishing in the evening.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Jinmyo--be careful with herbs, some cannot be chopped or minced ahead without discoloring, like basil.  Say you're making a strawberry fruit soup with a little champagne in the stock--you have to add a chiffonade of basil at the very last minute.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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Yes, Steve Klc, perfectly true. But chives, rosemary, and many others can. If I chop basil  in the morning, it's already in the sauce when the mise is done. Fresh basil added at the last minute (usually a different variety) before serving.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I usually do extensive prep in the mornings, including par cooking some dishes, for finishing in the evening.

Jinmyo, what are some examples of things you par cook earlier for finishing in the evening?  I would like to do more of that myself, to make it easier when it comes to putting the dinner together, especially for when having company over.

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I would avoid chopping onions in advance as they will go "off" as it were, but you are ok peeling shallots for instance.

I'm not sure I see the point in adding soft and delicate herbs like basil in advance to a sauce. I would use rosemary and thyme or bay at an early stage in order to infuse their flavour, but I dont think you are going to get that effect with the more fragile flvour and scent of tarragon for example, which always goes into a bearnasie a the last minute.

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Potatoes can be peeled and held, covered with water, for several hours prior to cooking. Salad can be assembled and held in the bowl in the refrigerator as long as it is not dressed. (It should be removed early enough to return to serving temperature.  If there are onions oe avocados, though, I wait until just before serving to add them.)

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To get back to Tom's comment, this is standard practice in all professional kitchens I have been in. Get in early, get the stocks going, make your terrines, recieve the fish and meat and prep it all, get you mise en place for the day done and dusted as far as you are able. All you have to do then is get lunch service out of the way and you may actually get to take your break in the middle of the day and be back an hour or so before dinner service to set up your station and get ready for the first order.

If you are not working all day, then you have a more leisurely post lunch couple of hours before you finish, doing additional mise en place for whoevers working the late shift. Or you might clean out the walk in fridge or help out on another station who are short handed or who were hit particularly bady at lunch and need to catch up a bit.

So you will find lots of pre prepared stuff in kitchens, but it should all be that days. Meat may be held over for a day or two. Fish certainly shouldn't.

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All useful stuff, thanks.  I do, in fact, habitually par cook dishes when I am getting ready for a dinner party.  Risotto is easy to start off and finish later, and lots of restaurants do it that way.  Birds can be roasted rare, breasts and legs removed (or the bird jointed as you prefer) then finished later in a pan with a sauce.  Even fish can be cooked just through, kept refrigerated, then finished in a pan when your guests are ready for that course.  It's a balance between serving food straight from the range, and being able to spend some time at the table with your guests.

I infer from the responses that I should be less nervous about leaving chopped vegetables around for several hours.  Do they all benefit - like potatoes - from being kept in cold water?

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I think potatos are particularly likely to react with the air and go black. Carrots are fine in the fridge as are things like green beans, podded peas and broad beans. Not sure about other roots like parsnip and swede (rutabaga). I would proabaly err on the side of caution.

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Parsnip and rutabaga are fine in salted or acidulated water in stainless bowls in the refrigerator for at least four hours, if not more.

Andy, the point of adding basil to a sauce in the morning and then finishing with fresh basil in the evening is the range of muted and louder flavours. I'm speaking of a pasta sauce, of course.

I wouldn't hold a bearnaise for more than 40 minutes on a bain marie. Let alone add tarragon too early.

I agree about chopping onions and leaving them out. But if you need caramelized onions as a component for the evening, they can rest all day.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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A signature dish at Fifth Floor restaurant in London used to be cote de beuf with bernaise, and the sauce was held all evening beneath heat lamps. It was made with pasturised, packaged egg yolk though so that could have had something to do with it.

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Really? I find mine can develop a skin...  :o

Leaving it longer, it could develop something worse like hair and bones...

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Just thought of another one.  If you are serving fried potatoes, I find you can do the first frying whenever you like, and then the second frying to crisp them up just before serving.  That saves time.

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Really? I find mine can develop a skin...  :o

Leaving it longer, it could develop something worse like hair and bones...

I should have said the last job at night at 5th Floor was always to chase down the bearnasie and trap it before it got lose in the dining room. I think they used to send it to a zoo in Hampshire, and eventually set it free in Africa somewhere. David Attenborough made a programme about it once I think.

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I've just pulled some kalbi ("Korean barbecue" beef ribs) out of the oven. I'll be serving these in about an hour and a half. I'll be putting them back in the oven at 350 for 20-25 minutes to just finish off.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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David Attenborough made a programme about it once I think.

Was that the one where he was also crawling about beneath a termite mound? Apparently they continually modulate the temperature with a complex venting system, maintaining the perfect temperature for the fungus gardens they keep. As I remember, they prep the fungus a good two hours before service.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Back to the topic... A good way to do prep for nearly the whole week is to make use of your FoodSaver if you have one. We talked abou this vacuum sealer a while back if you do a search. But most of your salad fixins can be done ahead of time and stored in mason jars sealed by vacuum. Even chopped raw onions stay perfectly fresh and don't smell up your fridge. This advice is more for the home cook than a restaurant, but you should see my vegetable bin. You open it up and instead of seeing veggies, you see the lids of mason jars, labeled with my Brother P-touch, with sliced celery, carrots, diced peppers, onions. Even lettuce, I can wash, spin dry and store in a vacuum container for several days worth of salads.

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I think there are a few categories here:

-- Items that are improved by pre- or par-cooking or advance preparation. This category would include most braised items, which are often better when rested overnight.

-- Items that are pretty much exactly the same whether you prep them to order or prep them in advance. A lot of vegetables fall into this category.

-- Items that are worsened, but only a tiny bit undetectable by most diners, if you start working on them in advance. Risotto is a good example. If it's handled cleverly enough, I can't really tell the difference -- but serious risotto people can.

-- Items that taste noticeably worse when par-cooked, such as most grilled or roasted meat and fish items (although there are exceptions). This is where I wouldn't want a top restaurant to do par-cooking before service, though many do.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've just pulled some kalbi ("Korean barbecue" beef ribs) out of the oven. I'll be serving these in about an hour and a half. I'll be putting them back in the oven at 350 for 20-25 minutes to just finish off.

You had to go and mention kalbi (which I've seen as galbi) and made me maddeningly hungry for them now.  damn you!  :D

(edit)

Seein' as how I just realized you wrote this yesterday... how were they?  (It's gonna make me want them even more... but tell the truth!)  :)

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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