Have you ever started making a recipe only to realize, “oh no, I am out of milk!” Or what about burning your onions because you were looking for the next ingredient you needed? I know I have! Let’s look at this wonderful technique that helps prevent moments of chaos and crisis in the kitchen. You will be more at ease and experience the joy of cooking in no time.
The technique I am talking about is called Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs), literally translated to “set up”. This culinary term talks about getting yourself together and organized before you begin cooking. It makes sense, right? I don’t know why this doesn’t seem to be a prevalent topic for the home cook. However, in one of my culinary courses, it was the first thing we talked about. Let me tell you why I love it.
First off, it saves time in the kitchen. With mise en place you are as efficient as a well-oiled machine. You will also be reducing stress while you are cooking and that kind of energy is what we want to be infusing into our food. Calm and collected, you can throw in as much love and joy as possible. This makes the process of creating in the kitchen a delight instead of a dread. All of this adds to the success of your recipe and how it turns out.
Cooking is also the art of chemistry, as we know. The amount of time something cooks and the order it goes in are really important in a lot of cases. By not organizing yourself before you start, you could set yourself up for a chain of unfortunate events. For example, cooking one step longer then it needs to be, only because you are focused on what you need to be doing in the next step. On the occasion when I have had a recipe totally flop, it is such a drag to see the time and money I invested into it literally go down the drain. Mise en place isn’t a foolproof guarantee this won’t ever happen, but I can promise it will reduce these instances.
With everything in its place you can fully connect to the moment, be present and experience the benefits of mindful living. I look at this as “Zen” cooking. It is a way of clearing your space and your mind.
So how does all of this work? When you practice the art of mise en place, you set out all of your ingredients, tools and equipment before you begin. You measure and prepare each ingredient as the recipe calls for it, such as chop, peel, slice and dice. This way, when you are creating a recipe you can float effortlessly around the kitchen for each step. For me, I am able to get into the right side of my creative brain. I don’t have to think about measurements or the exactness of an ingredient. I just need to think about the timing of what I am making and enjoy watching the alchemy of the process.
My favorite part of mise en place is that I can prepare and pre-measure some ingredients in a recipe ahead of time… such as the night before, or hours before. With time and practice, you will start to see the make-ahead when you read a recipe. The parts that can be prepped earlier will seem like shortcuts when it comes to the time you are executing your recipe. This process of food prep really helps me out on busy days. For example, this year I had a big commercial job the week of my son’s birthday party. The night before the party I measured out all of the dry ingredients for the cake recipe and put them in a bowl together. It was like I was making a boxed packaged cake mix. The next day, all I needed to do was add the wet ingredients and bake it. It made making a cake from scratch a breeze!
To help you with all of this, I recommend two things:
Always read your recipes through twice before you begin cooking. This way you can spot the ‘make-aheads’ and understand the recipe.
Buy a set of pinch bowls to help you arrange your smaller sized ingredients. I like to use these glass stacking bowls for all of my recipes.
What this all boils down to is that your time and resources are valuable. Mise en place will help you use them wisely. As Benjamin Franklin said “Lost time is never found again”. Here is to getting all our ducks in a row! Quack, quack!