The Power of Mise-En-Place
Yesterday, toward closing time for our local store, Kneaded Kitchens, I had a visit from a young friend of mine. I first met this friend when she was in high school and was involved in a culinary program at the local career tech center. She has since graduated from Culinary School and just recently completed her bachelor's degree in hospitality management at Michigan State.
As we were catching up on recent events, I reminded her that she had been instrumental in my cooking journey. The puzzled look in her eyes turned to joy when I thanked her for being the person that introduced me to the concept of mise-en-place (literally French for putting in place and a phrase that has come to mean everything in its place or being prepared).
Mis-en-place is in many ways the lifeblood of the commercial kitchen, where a cook may spend hours standing at a station preparing the same dish over and over. It is also a very powerful concept for the home chef (see a previous blog on How To Read A Recipe). For the home chef, it is a practiced mindset of being prepared by reading a recipe thoroughly, gathering ingredients ahead of time, and making sure that you have all of the right tools available before you begin the actual cooking process. (Another key concept is “cleaning as you go,” but we’ll write about that in a future blog).
Whenever I pull a recipe out to prepare a meal, especially if it is a new recipe to me, I look for needed ingredients and make a shopping list for what I might need. I gather the various pots and pans, knives and cutting boards or other utensils that may be called for. Then I begin to prep the ingredients. If the recipe calls for grated fresh ginger, I grate that into a small glass bowl that I can place near where I will be cooking. I do the same for any other ingredients that need to be prepared (minced garlic for example). I also get out the various spices, etc. that will be needed along with the appropriate measuring spoons. When everything is “in place”, I can begin to cook.
This mindset of preparing adequately rather than just jumping into a recipe has saved me a lot of time and trouble. Along the way, I have learned a couple of tips that work well for me. Maybe they can be a help to you as well:
- Remember that some steps in a recipe take a longer amount of time. If a recipe calls for two hours to marinate an ingredient, and you are starting too close to time to eat, you may be in trouble. The one that keeps tripping me up is remembering to leave time for the oven to preheat
- If multiple ingredients are added to the pot or pan at the same time in the recipe, go ahead and put them in the same bowl during your prep time. This makes it easier to add them at the appropriate time
- I often have a number of small to medium sized prep bowls with various ingredients for the recipe. Placing those bowls on a baking sheet makes it easier to keep them all together, especially if in your kitchen the most logical prep area is not right next to the stove.
Many recipes leave time for some ingredient prep while other things are cooking, and that is perfectly fine. We are not looking to have absolutely everything done before we begin to cook anything. Rather the goal of the mindset is to know what is needed, to understand the plan, and to be prepared. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad mindset to carry into life outside of cooking.
By Robby Richardson