I’m finally beginning to cook well. I don’t mean making things taste good; I’ve had a knack for that since I was a teenager whipping up pancakes for friends after sleepovers. But literally, how to cook: the procedure of cooking. Namely, the part of cooking that is the least glamorous, but is the opening act for all the food we eat: prep cooking. Whether following a recipe or cooking off the cuff, whether preparing your own meal or enjoying a dinner out, prep cooking is an integral, often under-appreciated, part of the process.
Prep cooking is the time when you get everything chopped and ready to go. It means having ice water baths ready for potatoes. It means having a little bowl to hold the finely minced garlic. It varies, dish by dish. Some dishes—a real, quick stir fry for instance—require a lot of attention before the main event. Others—a low, slow and steady stew—will give you some breathing room; you’ll have time to peel and chop potatoes while your pot smoothly bubbles on the stove top.
Me? I’m impatient by nature. I love instant gratification and getting my way. Prep cooking was a boring chore that stood in the way of what I really wanted to do. I would try to combine cooking and prepping: “Of course I can chop three different veggies while the onions sauté, no problem!” This rarely worked well for me. Meals would be burned, vegetables overcooked, swears muttered under my breath. I would end up being disappointed and eating take-out.
I used to watch cooking shows and be overcome with jealousy because someone, before the show, had prepped everything—and in adorable nesting bowls, no less! Of course I could cook like that if all of my ingredients were laid out, neatly chopped before I stepped into the kitchen. How luxurious!
And then I kicked myself in the ass. I could easily have that same luxury; I just had to provide it for myself. Like anything else, I had to do the work to reap the benefits.
Grudgingly, I began to accept the necessity for prep cooking. I was doing it with an, “Alright, Ma!” eye-roll. I was going to do it, but I wasn’t going to like it. But once I started, I noticed the difference in the meals I was making. My food was better, I was enjoying the end result more. I was experiencing something I loved in a different way. I started to pay more attention.
Now I find a totally different kind of enjoyment in preparing to cook. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll definitely hand some chopping over to the boyfriend if it means getting the skillet hot a little quicker. But my relationship with prep work is more personal. I am more attentive. I am more appreciative of the parts that make the whole of a well-cooked meal.
Prep cooking repeatedly reaffirms my practice of patience and appreciation of detail. Because of that, I love cooking a little more deeply.