Mise en Place Without Going Nuts

Does mise en place mean anything to you? Actually, it’s just a French term that literally means “putting in place,” and I bet you practice at least a minimal form of it now. It refers to the practice of preparing your ingredients and supplies before you start cooking.

In a restaurant setting, it’s practically a requirement. Without the vegetables chopped, the meat sliced, and the spatulas ready, the chef would need to stop every few minutes to do work that was better done hours ago, and your meal would take a lot of time to exit the kitchen.

At home, we can often get away from traditional mise en place because time is not of the essence, and we’re only preparing one meal with limited ingredients. Instead of “clean as you go,” we often practice “prep as you go,” readying ingredients as they’re required in the recipe. But are we really better off without mise en place?

My precise personality aside, I would argue that preparation can save not only a lot of frustration but a lot of time when making meals at home, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal. By having all of your ingredients ready ahead of time, you can:

  • Spot any missing ingredients (Used to happen all the time at our house!).
  • Do prep work that requires burners or the oven before you have to start cooking the meal.
  • Group all the ingredients for one dish together for easier access later.
  • Focus exclusively on cooking and cleaning as you go, without stopping to look for and prepare ingredients.
  • Make multiple dishes at once with ease.
  • Cook things quickly and serve them immediately, even if a garnish is required.

What supplies do you need? You probably already have a good set of bowls at home for bigger ingredients or larger quantities. For everything else, I would recommend a set of 4 to 8 glass “mini-bowls” that you see chefs using on TV all the time. While they’ve become incredibly cliché, they are undeniably perfect for prep work and you can fit them in your dishwasher with ease for clean-up. I personally own about 15 of these bowls, and there are days when I will use every one of them.

How do you actually “do” mise en place? There’s no secret methodology for how to do it, so do what comes naturally for you. Keep in mind that the key is to prepare as much as you can before you put “food to fire,” or start the final cooking process. Some examples include:

  • Butchering, chopping, seasoning and/or marinating the meat.
  • Chopping fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts.
  • Preparing stocks and sauces.
  • Measuring out flour, sugar, spices, oils, alcohol, etc.
  • Breaking open and separating eggs.
  • Preparing salad ingredients prior to hot dish ingredients.
  • Finding and setting up mixing, blending, or other tools.

Every one of us who cooks already does all of the above, but we don’t always do it ahead of time. The end result is often panic and frustration, and that’s no way to prepare a meal.

Embrace the concept of mise en place, and I guarantee that the process will be much more enjoyable, and your food will taste like it was made with care!

Photo by littlebluehen