Have you ever been cooking a recipe, where nothing seems to be going right? The kitchen is a disaster, there is prepped food debris all over the counters and floors, and then the recipe ends up burning, because you were too preoccupied looking for that missing ingredient.
Many of these stresses can be minimized or avoided by practicing mise en place. I have found that the success of the recipe, and my enjoyment in cooking it, hinges largely on my execution of mise en place.
Mise En Place Definition
Mise en place (Pronounced me-zohn plahs) is a French culinary term that when translated means “putting in place” or “setting up”. The term is commonly used in professional kitchens to describe a methodology, whereby all the ingredients and tools required for cooking a recipe are organized and prepared before starting to cook.
The Value of Mise En Place
Throughout my culinary training in college, there was always an emphasis put on mise en place. We were not only graded based on the quality of the meals presented, but also on how efficiently the dish was prepared.
The instructors would observe how many trips it took to gather all the ingredients required for the recipe before any cooking began. Did you precut and portion all required ingredients before cooking?
Did you have all the necessary cooking utensils at the station before cooking, and did you run a clean and organized station throughout the preparation of the recipe?
The importance of mise en place became very apparent, once I started working in professional kitchens. In fact, I almost lost my first job as a prep cook, because I was too slow. My scheduled shift for the day was over, and I was still trying to complete the day’s recipes.
Mise en place helped save my job.
I took the time to thoroughly study the recipes after my shift. I internalized their preparation and the best ways to organize them. Firstly, I visualized how I could minimize my trips to the pantry and fridge.
Secondly, I really thought about my organization regarding ingredients and kitchen tools throughout the prep day, and how their organization could increase my efficiency. Within a couple of weeks, I was constantly the first one done prep for the day.
Benefits of Mise En Place in Your Home Kitchen
Although the parallels between a commercial kitchen and a home kitchen are not exactly the same, they definitely share some important similarities and benefits regarding mise en place. Mastering this skill at home will help improve your cooking, and make it more efficient and enjoyable.
Reading over the recipe and planning the ingredients and kitchen tools required for the dish will definitely make the cooking easier and more enjoyable. Visualizing each step in the recipe instructions will help ensure the success of a tasty meal. Although you may not have to complete the recipe in a set time period, being more efficient in the kitchen allows you to sit down earlier for mealtime and enjoy more time with family and friends.
Advantages of Mise En Place
- You have everything required for the recipe. There are no surprises like I thought I had that, or when did this expire?
- Less stress while cooking. You are working in a well-organized environment providing the greatest chance for a successful recipe that is a joy to cook.
- Pre-planning and visualization of the recipe enable sharper focus on the cooking process and builds confidence.
- The organization helps minimize the risk of mistakes, such as missing an ingredient or adding the ingredient twice.
- You are more efficient, and your workflow increases. Everything you need is close at hand, there is no searching around for ingredients and kitchen tools.
How to Perform Mise En Place
Step 1: Read over the recipe and develop a plan.
- Take an inventory of all the required ingredients. Identify what ingredients you have on hand, and what ingredients are still required. You may have to run to the local supermarket to stock up on missing items before you begin cooking.
- Take inventory of all the necessary kitchen tools such as pots, pans, ladles, measuring cups…etc. Are you missing anything?
- Identify and allow for any longer lead prep items such as marinated foods. The recipe may take longer than anticipated because the chicken needs 6 hours to marinate for example.
- Analyze each step in the recipe and develop a plan. Determine the best way to combine ingredients during the pre-portioning process to be the most efficient. Measure and pre-portion ingredients into groups based on when they are deployed into the recipe.
Step 2: Gather all ingredients and organize kitchen tools on the countertop.
Step 3: Dice, chop, slice, and mince all ingredients as required by the recipe.
Step 4: Pre-measure and portion all ingredients into portion cups or bowls.
- If possible combine multiple ingredients into 1 portion cup or bowl based on, when they are added to the recipe.
Step 5: Organize pre-portion ingredients on the countertop in the order they are added to the recipe.
Step 6: Clean as you go.
- Prepare a sink of hot soapy water with clean dish towels and sanitizer. It’s amazing how much better it feels to work in a clean working environment. There is less chance of cross-contamination between foods. A clean kitchen environment is less stressful because there is less clutter from dirty dishes and counters. The last big bonus is there are hardly any dishes left to wash at the end of the day.
Example of Mise En Place
Let’s take Dutch Oven Beef Stew for example. The recipe calls for multiple ingredients cooked in multiple stages. It is also a recipe that comes together quickly, once the cooking begins. Practicing mise en place for this recipe will help ensure its success, and make the cooking process much smoother minimizing the chance of mistakes.
Pre-portioning every single ingredient into individual portion cups is not always necessary, or the most efficient way to cook. You still want to pre-portion and prep things, but do it in a way that consolidates ingredients in the order in which they are deployed into the recipe.
For instance, the beef stew calls for salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley to be added at the same time. You could pre-portion all these ingredients into individual portion cups, and then add them one at a time, but this is less efficient and creates a lot more dishes to clean.
Instead, these ingredients can all be pre-portioned into one large cup and added to the stew all at once. The carrots and potatoes are added to the stew halfway through the cooking time.
These two ingredients can be cut and portioned into one bowl and added to the stew at the same time. Combining ingredients in this way makes the cooking more efficient and saves on extra clean up.
The benefits of mise en place are not isolated to professional kitchens and cooks. Mise en place is a proven cooking technique that will make food preparation more efficient and organized. Mise en place alleviates stress because most of the work is already done through the preplanning and preparation process. Now all that is left to do is enjoy cooking the recipe, and sit down to a delicious meal with family and friends.