ise en place (pronounced meez ahn plas) is a wonderful French cooking term that literally translates to ‘put in place’. The purpose of mise en place is to allow the chef to cook in the most efficient way without having to stop. While it won’t prevent you from drying out a roast, burning a batch of cookies or deflating a soufflé, it will make you a better cook by changing the way you work though preparing a meal from inception to clean-up.
The Pros Know
If you’ve had the pleasure of dining in a fine restaurant with a view of an open-kitchen then you’ve witnessed mise en place first hand. Each cook stands at his or her station with all of the ingredients and tools they’ll need for the entire service at the ready – vegetables are washed and chopped, meats are trimmed and portioned, fish is deboned and filleted, pans, tongs & towels are all standing-by, ready for action. With everything in its place, including the cooks, the kitchen moves like clockwork. In the industry, this is sometimes referred to as ‘the dance’.
Have you ever noticed while watching cooking shows that all the ingredients are expertly measured and queued up in little ramekins, while the perfectly coiffed tv chef whisks with one hand, pours a glass of wine with the other and recounts her last trip to Italy, all without breaking a sweat or her sauce? Well, she’s not Superwoman. She has mise en place. (and probably a really good hairdresser)
Mise en Place at Home
Mise en place for the home cook is much more than just pre-chopping, pre-measuring and setting everything out in diminutive bowls in a straight line. True mise en place starts long before that in the planning of what you’re going to cook. It’s calculating how much you need to cook for how many people you’re serving. It’s making sure you have all of your ingredients and equipment before you even think about picking up a knife and mentally walking through your recipe anticipating the steps before they happen.
Once you’ve done the mental work it’s time for the prep. All of the ingredients you will need should be pulled out of storage, measured, washed if needed, trimmed or cut as needed and laid out on the counter within reach of where you’re working. Putting the ingredients in order of when you’ll need them helps too. You should have your tools and equipment ready as well - utensils within reach, small appliances assembled, pot holders and towels ready, oven preheated. And don’t forget to pull out your serving dishes and set your table. It’s all part of mise en place.
Is The Work Worth It?
All of this planning and prepping may seem like a lot of work but in most cases it’s worth the time and effort. Mise en place will prevent you from getting halfway through a recipe only to find you’re missing one crucial ingredient. It keeps you from spilling a bag of flour because you’re trying to measure before your butter burns or from missing an ingredient entirely because you were distracted from doing too many things at once. Have you ever mistakenly added salt when a recipe called for sugar? Mise en place gives you less of a chance for such mistakes. It also alleviates stress because most of the work has been done, which is especially great if you’re entertaining or preparing an advanced or complicated recipe. We would say that’s it.