The most important kitchen task
I love washing dishes. There, I said it.
There is no greater way to determine if someone can be a great chef or home cook than to observe the way they view the dishwashing station. Do they consider washing dishes as beneath them? Do they understand the concept of “clean as you go”? Are they able to work efficiently and multi-task? Do they take pride in doing every task as well as possible? Or perhaps it is viewed as a necessary evil. Something that doesn't inspire education.
Do they jump in and start washing, or do they take the time to set up their workstation so that it is organised and as efficient as possible? These are the things that I look at when I watch people wash dishes. And to tell you a secret- in my opinion... most people get it wrong.
Such a travesty when you consider what is at stake:
Health. Soapy or half-washed dishes pose a serious health risk.
Reputation. Dirty dishes make your food unappetizing regardless of flavor.
Business. You can't afford to lose customers to a dirty dish or unorganized dish station.
Legal. If someone gets sick it can be costly.
Not everyone who washes dishes can enjoy the Zen aspect of the task. I know that any chef will tell you that their chef de plonge inhabits the most important real estate in the kitchen. Without clean dishes the whole operation goes to crap.
So without waxing prophetic about my religion any further, I would like to discuss a proper dishwashing station and the reason for each step:
You can print the following section, cut it out, and post it above your dishwashing station. So that anyone who views it can step in and understand your desire to have safe, clean dishes:
Scrape plates and pots/pans as soon as they are finished being used. Pour out used cups and drinking glasses and rinse them. Set them aside in preparation for washing.
Soak pots and pans by filling with warm water immediately after using. This prevents them from drying up and becoming more difficult to scrub. Soaking as you go means that when it is time to do the dishes, the task will go much faster.
Soak silverware and cooking utensils in one of the pots with a bit of soap in the water.
Rinse plates under warm water while scrubbing with a metal scrub pad. Stack them as you go.
Keep your sink clean and clutter free so that you can more easily perform the pre-wash tasks listed above.
Once all dishes are pre-cleaned, Fill your wash sink with clean, hot, soapy water.
Place the soaked silverware in the bottom of the sink, then place the plates and drinking glasses(cups) into the soapy water.
Note: The next steps will be determined by your particular dish station setup.
If you operate a restaurant, you are required to have a three-bay sink (wash-rinse-sanitize). And there is often a commercial dishwasher used to wash and sanitize dishes. Even if you use a commercial dishwasher, I advise following all previous steps, and then pre-washing the dishes before placing into the machine. There will be no need to rinse or sanitize, as the machine does these functions by default. The reason I recommend the pre-wash steps is to avoid having to re-wash dishes that do not come clean in the dishwasher. Also, you will keep your dishwasher water and filters much cleaner, which will result in greater efficiency of the machine, and allow your glasses to become much cleaner as they are washed in the water that the machine holds in its tank. If you hand wash dishes for a restaurant, then be sure to keep clean water in the rinse and sanitize sinks, and then allow your dishes to air dry before putting them back into service. Wash your pots and pans after you have cleaned the silverware, plates, glasses, utensils. If you have followed the steps above, your dishwater will still be clean and soapy. There will be no grease or food in the sink, so changing water will not be necessary until you begin the next batch of dishes. This is where the pre-wash steps really pay off, as you will be able to wash more dishes between water changes. Work from easiest to hardest, as the longer that a tough pot soaks, the easier it is to wash.
At Home with a dishwasher:
Once your sink is filled with your pre-cleaned dishes and hot soapy water, simply hand wash the dishes and place them unrinsed into your dishwasher. Be sure to place them into the machine in a way that allows for the dishwasher to operate properly. Do not overlap or stack dishes in a way that the jet spray cannot reach each and every dish properly. Instead of using a dishwashing soap, I recommend pouring 1 ounce of white vinegar into the bottom of the machine. The soap residue left from pre-washing the dishes is plenty enough to run the machine, and you will notice that your glasses will be completely clean, spot-free, and not require polishing! Once dry, put your dishes away, knowing that they are sanitized and safe to serve your delicious food on.
Once you finish washing all of your plates, glasses, and utensils, then you can wash your pre-soaked pots and pans in the same still-clean dishwater. Work from easiest to hardest, as the longer that a tough pot soaks, the easier it is to wash.
At home without a dishwasher:
Once your sink is filled with your pre-cleaned dishes and hot soapy water, simply hand wash the dishes and then set on a sideboard or in a second sink if you have one, until all dishes are washed. Empty the sink and wash and rinse it out thoroughly. Then place all of the unrinsed dishes back into the sink and rinse them thoroughly. The rinsing task will become easier as you go because as you rinse the top dishes, the ones beneath will become pre-rinsed as you go.
Place each dish onto a drain rack and allow to air dry. Never hand dry dishes, as this can only contaminate your clean dishes with what eventually becomes a soiled towel.
Your goal should be to have clean soapy water left in your wash sink after cleaning all of your dishes. This means that you have properly followed the steps above, and that you will be able to proudly serve your delicious cuisine on safe, clean, dishware.
By adopting a system to wash your dishes, you will find that the task actually becomes easier and more efficient. When I say that the way a person views the task of dishwashing reflects on their ability to cook well, I am referring to the mindset involved. Both tasks involve having a plan, following it, and not becoming overwhelmed by the seeming enormity of the task. Being in control of your kitchen, and the product that comes out of it, will result in the highest quality experience for both cook and guest alike. As I often tell apprentice cooks who become frustrated: “be in control of the product, don’t let the product control you”.