~ Mise en Place isn’t just for professional chefs and restaurant kitchens. Tear a page out of the pros’ playbook and use the same principles to get your own cooking organized! It’ll help you meal plan better, and also make you less stressed and more efficient in the kitchen. It can even make hectic, weeknight cooking more fun! ~
What Does Mise en Place Mean?
It’s pronounced mi zɑ̃ ˈplas.
Chefs and professional kitchens use the term to refer to having all your ingredients and utensils located, measured and prepared according to the ingredient list on the recipe card – completely ready to go, before you dive into the directions listed in the method section of the recipe.
As we mentioned in our post on how to meal plan and estimate REAL prep times, that means that if the ingredient list includes “2 cups chopped tomatoes” – then you’re expected to have the tomatoes chopped and measured, at the ready before you begin following the recipe’s directions. Similarly, if the ingredient list says “1 cup whole wheat flour,” the recipe writer assumes that you’ve already gone and dug the flour out of the pantry and have it all measured and waiting, ready to go.
Only when you have all the ingredients located, opened, chopped, minced, measured and prepared as specified in the ingredient list … only then … are you technically ready to begin. And, as we explained in our meal planning post, only at that point do professionally written recipes typically begin calculating “prep time.”
Ok, ok … I know that isn’t exactly how it always works in the real world. But that’s the idea.
And actually, going through the mise en place process truly does have a ton of benefits!
Make Mise en Place Work For You!
Not everything that happens in professional kitchens translates well to the home kitchen. So why is mise en place total genius? Well …
• You figure out ahead of time if you’re missing an ingredient or if you’ve run out of something you were sure you had on hand. And you have time to “phone a friend” and see if a neighbor has that extra egg or 1/4 cup of salsa you’re missing. Or, you can do some quick research and figure out a substitution, before you’re in the middle of the recipe – in the heat of battle!
• Plus, everything you need is totally ready to go and close at hand, so if certain steps of your recipe happen more quickly than you’d expected (geez, that sauce thickened fast!), it’s no problem. You can quickly adjust and move on to the next step without anything burning or boiling over because you couldn’t react fast enough.
• And, without a doubt, all parents should “mise”! I can 100% vouch for the fact that “mising” will save the day when a toddler wakes up from naptime early, right in the middle of dinner prep. Or when your dinner plan goes haywire because your kiddo comes downstairs, tearfully begging for help with the Pythagorean theorem … just as you were frantically running to the pantry for three ingredients you desperately needed but hadn’t yet unearthed. In the 15 years that I’ve had kids, I have rarely cooked an uninterrupted meal. Plan on it – and embrace mise en place as the key to cooking sanity.
• Mise en place also forces you to actually think through a recipe … before you just dive in willy-nilly. The cooking school mantra is to read every recipe TWICE before you begin – so you know what to expect and won’t be caught off-guard by unusual methods or unexpected steps. If you’re a busy home cook who often needs to get a lot of the work done before meal time, this is a godsend. You learn to spot the shortcuts and do-aheads. You see all the ingredients that can be pre-measured, pre-chopped … even hours ahead or the day before. And, you start to enjoy the sanity of not having to navigate cooking in a whirlwind of last-minute stress. You begin to feel like a capable superhero, gliding effortlessly through meal prep. Or, you know … something like that.
Our Tips for Successful Mise en Place
1. Use a set of prep bowls to get everything all laid out. But, don’t feel like you can’t cheat a little! If the chopped green peppers and chopped onions will both get tossed into the chili pot at the same time, you can pile them both into one prep bowl together.
2. A handy trick I learned in cooking school: it can be really helpful to place all your mise en place items on a rimmed sheet pan. That way, it stays collected together in one spot and can even move quickly around the kitchen so it’s all constantly right next to you, ready for action, each step of the way.
3. Or, another great way of organizing the items you’ve gathered is to set them out in the different areas where you’ll need them during the cooking process. Mixing bowls and mixing spoons might be placed in one area of the countertop, with ingredients you’ll be combining together. Pots and pans might be next to the stove, along with last-minute seasonings you’ll be adding directly into the cooking pots. Before you ever begin the actual cooking, put things where they’ll be effortlessly close at hand. So simple … but a total epiphany for frantically busy cooks!
4. As we mention in our post on how to meal plan, if you’re often busy right at cooking time, use mise en place as an excuse to find as many make-ahead steps in a recipe as possible. Here at THK, we often try to call out make-ahead points in our recipes, but many other recipe developers don’t do that. The more steps of a recipe you can successfully accomplish ahead of time, the more relaxed you’ll be as you cook … and the more you’ll find that you enjoy the process!
5. Don’t forget that mise en place should also include gathering your tools and utensils, too. You don’t want to be digging for the long-lost pasta strainer while the pasta angrily boils over and cascades across the stovetop. Nope! Find that wayward strainer before you ever begin cooking, and you’ll be happily disaster-free!
6. As you get used to working in an efficient, organized way, you’ll probably also notice another (seriously wonderful!) side benefit: you have time to clean up a little as you go! Because you’re cooking more effortlessly, you’ll have spare moments to drop things into the sink, or even get them to the dishwasher. Not only will you feel less frazzled as you cook, but clean-up later will seem like a much easier task, too! (Although, as I’ve said time and again, clean-up is also a great chance to enlist the help of
small clean-up minions children you may happen to have around the house! Builds responsibility and gets those kiddos involved in the cooking process. And makes you happy, happy! Just a thought …)
When Mise en Place Doesn’t Pay Off
I really, really want you to find the zen that is mise en place. Cooking in a well-organized space is so much more fun, so much less stressful! Especially when you’re short on time, when you’re trying a new recipe, or when you’re constantly multitasking through your cooking, with lots of interruptions and distractions (yes, you … every single parent on the planet).
I will give you a freebie pass in one circumstance (and only one!): When you’re cooking a recipe you’re really familiar with, that you could practically whip up in your sleep, and you know all the ins-and-outs without really even thinking about them. In that case, you can sometimes actually save time by not “mising.” (*Blasphemy* but #truth)
If you’ve made the recipe a thousand times, then (for example) you might know that there’s plenty of time to chop the peppers while the ground beef browns, even if your toddler picks that moment to spill her sippy cup and the UPS guy rings the bell with your Amazon delivery. And you know that there’s plenty of time while the pasta cooks to grab a handful of basil from the planter on the deck, even if you also have to conjugate Spanish verbs with your preteen. And (although you’re 100% sure you have brown rice in the pantry), you also know that you can sub quinoa or even farro in a pinch, so you don’t need to worry about scouting the pantry’s nether regions ahead of time.
Yeah … you’ve got this.
But for hectic nights with new recipes, dinner parties with complex menus … pretty much every other cooking situation ever …
Mise en place.
Trust me on this one. Your world will never be the same!