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Stir Fry and a Lesson in Mise en Place

July 10, 2008

This is what one corner of my kitchen looked like a few weeks ago when I was deep into the baking of a cake. You can see my trusty mixer dusted with flour, measuring cups, meringue powder, some vanilla in the background, dishes, and of course a cup of black coffee to keep me going. The kitchen was a mess and my disorganization made the job a little harder as frosting would overcook while I searched for a tool or an ingredient would be forgotten in my haste. I vowed to be a more organized and neat baker after that.

Mise en place is a French phrase meaning literally “put in place,” I like to refer to it as having my s**t together. As Wikipedia explains: “Recipes are reviewed, to check for necessary ingredients and equipment. Ingredients are measured out, washed, chopped and placed in individual bowls. Equipment such as spatulas and blenders are prepared for use, while ovens are preheated. Preparing the mis en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints.”

Taking the time to thoroughly read a recipe, prepare and measure ingredients, and have all tools and dishes at the ready makes cooking a lot more relaxing and often times more successful. (I also like to pretend I have my own cooking show.)

Having all of your ingredients at the ready is especially important when cooking dishes like stir fry which can require quick action and a lot of prepared ingredients.

Thai Red Curry With Tofu

From: The Best 30 Minute Recipes from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

Serves 4


  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (14 oz) package tofu, sliced crosswise into 1/2 inch thick slabs
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1-2 tsp. red curry paste
  • 1 (13.5 oz) can light coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/2 lb snap peas, trimmed
  • 1/2 cup coarsely, chopped fresh basil


  1. Prepare Tofu: Spread flour into shallow dish. Whisk egg in separate shallow dish. Pat tofu dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Dredge tofu, one piece at a time, in flour to coat and shake of excess.
  2. Coat and Cook Tofu: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Dip floured tofu in egg, allowing excess to drip off, then add to skillet. Brown tofu well on both sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer tofu to plate and set aside.
  3. Make Sauce: Add remaining tablespoon oil and curry paste to oil left in skillet and cook over medium-hot heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in coconut milk, fish sauce, and brown sugar and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Simmer Vegetables: Stir in bell pepper and peas and simmer until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add Tofu and Finish: Off heat, stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Nestle tofu into sauce and serve.
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