Well, believe it or not, getting a great meal on the table quickly and effortlessly isn’t just about talent or experience. The real secret to increasing your efficiency and success in the kitchen is to commit to some good ol’ fashioned planning and organization in the form of “mise en place.” (Of course, having a team of sous chefs doesn’t hurt either.)
I remember the first time I heard about mise en place – it was Julia Child speaking in her distinctly unusual accent, telling me and all her PBS viewers that there was nothing more efficient than practicing mise en place.
I was enlightened, I was thrilled, I knew life in the kitchen would never be the same again … after all, I now knew a secret that renowned chefs across the globe utilized to increase efficiency and ensure the success of their culinary creations.
Mastering “Mise En Place”
“Mise en place” (pronounced MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French culinary term that means “to put in place.” In a nutshell, the purpose of mise en place is to have all of your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking, so you don’t have to stop during the cooking process to do anything other than add the next ingredient.
Trust me, friends … if you adopt the practice of mise en place, you will find life in the kitchen not only quicker and easier, but more successful and enjoyable too!
Mise en place will truly help you to be a better cook, guaranteed! Why? Because you will be able to focus your attention fully on the most critical aspect of what makes a meal a success – cooking.
Let’s Get Started!
There are two simple steps when it comes to mise en place:
• Planning – making sure you have all of the ingredients (and necessary tools) called for in a recipe before you get started, and
• Organizing – making sure you have all of the ingredients prepared (ready to go) before you start cooking.
Step One: Planning
Have you ever come home from a busy day and starred blankly into the refrigerator or pantry hoping for divine inspiration on what to make for dinner, only to find that when inspiration finally strikes, you’re missing one of the essential ingredients needed to make the meal? I admit that I had this experience almost daily before I got serious about weekly meal planning.
Honestly, there’s no better way to ensure that you have all of the ingredients on hand to make a recipe, than to practice the time-saving and money-saving strategy of meal planning! In fact, may I be so bold as to suggest that meal planning is the ultimate mise en place!
Meal planning not only guarantees that you’ll have all of the ingredients necessary to execute every recipe on your meal plan, but it also helps to save time, stress and money because you’ve already pre-planned what you’ll be cooking for the week. For details, please check out “Mastering Meal Planning.”
Step Two: Organizing
I think it’s safe to say that most of us wouldn’t pack a suitcase by simply opening it up and filling it with random socks, shirts, pants, shoes, etc. First, we’d plan what we’re going to wear. Then we’d start organizing and assembling all of the necessary components before we packed the suitcase.
Successful, efficient cooking isn’t much different – by planning ahead in the form of weekly meal planning (as discussed above), you’ll already have what you need for each recipe you’ll be making. This makes it much easier to take the next step of mise en place – organizing!
If you’ve watched any cooking show on TV, you’ve seen the results of the behind-the-scenes organization that has taken place – all those little bowls of ingredients already pre-prepped and ready to go for the chef. All the chef has to do is talk you through the recipe as he/she adds each perfectly prepped and measured ingredient.
It would be awesome to have a personal sous chef to prep and assemble all of your recipe ingredients, but the fact is you can still benefit from this practice, you just have to commit to Be Your Own Sous Chef! Or better yet, train up little sous chefs to help you!
Mise en Place in Action!
Ready to be a “Real” Food Network Star in your own home? Below are some of my favorite mise en place tips to help you get organized before you start cooking:
• Gather all of the ingredients, as well as all of the measuring tools and cooking tools, etc. that are needed to execute the recipe(s) and place them close at hand. (Even better is to organize them in the order you’ll be using them.)
• Dice, chop, grate, mince, etc. all of the ingredients needed for the recipe(s) so they’re all ready to go before you start cooking.
• Premeasure out ingredients in individual prep bowls or measuring cups. (Or group them together in one bowl, if you’re going to add them at the same time to a recipe.) You don’t have to measure out everything, just those ingredients that would cause you to hold up progress. (For example, when baking, I never pre-measure out vanilla extract, but I always pre-measure out things like yogurt, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
• Clean as you go … another great benefit of mise en place is less mess to clean-up after cooking. Since you’re spending time prepping before you start cooking, you can also take a minute to clean-up a bit after prep-time is completed, before you start cooking. This is especially rewarding if you’re having dinner guests – not only so your kitchen appears tidy when guests arrive, but also so you can relax after dinner, rather than having to look forward to a lengthy clean-up progress.
• Timing is everything – If you’re going to be cooking or assembling more than one dish, it’s important to start with the recipe items that take longer to cook and then work your way to those ingredients or dishes that take less time to prepare. This strategy helps you to develop good timing – so everything is ready all at the same time!
• Schedule a “Mise en Place” Prep Day! If you meal plan, a great time-saving strategy is to schedule a prep day so you can prepare for the week ahead by pre-cutting and marinating meats; chopping veggies, such as lettuce for quick and easy salads; making and freezing key ingredients (or meals) that can be defrosted later for quicker meal assembly. The ideas for prepping in advance are endless! That’s why prep days are a great mise en place strategy – they help reduce your time in the kitchen during the rest of week, so you can still provide healthy homecooked meals even on the busiest of days.
A Final Mise en Place Tip
Let’s talk about preheating for a minute. This is one of the most often overlooked mise en place strategies.
There’s a reason a recipe calls for preheating – it helps to ensure the food cooks properly. So before just throwing a steak on a barely heated grill (for example), be sure to preheat the grill, so it’s nice and hot. A hot grill helps to sear the exterior of the meat and lock in its juices, making the steak so much more tender and juicy!
Similarly, before sautéing, be sure your pan is well heated. By allowing time for your pans to heat-up before cooking, you’ll help to ensure better, tastier results.
Additionally, when cooking with oil, it should be close to its smoking point, before you add your recipe ingredients for best results.
And it probably goes without saying, that before you put those homemade cookies or muffins in the oven, it’s wise to be sure that your oven is preheated to the precise baking temperature called for in the recipe. Otherwise, you may end up with burned bottoms (and nobody likes a burned bottom).
Investing Your Time Wisely!
I promise, practicing mise en place isn’t just for famous TV chefs and restaurateurs, it’s a proven technique that can help everyone to cook with more ease and more success. That’s because mise en place helps us to invest our time wisely!
So remember the secret – Putting in the necessary time upfront to plan your meals and then, gather and prep all of the recipe’s ingredients in advance, helps to ensure that the time you spend cooking is much more efficient and enjoyable, as well as results in a healthy and delicious meal for the family you love!
Joyfully Serving Him, Kelly