The frantic yells go out..."Where the heck is that 9x13 baking dish!?!?!?!" "Where's the salt?!?!?!" Does that sound familiar? It sure does to me. I've shouted that (or something very much like it) many times!
If there is one thing that has helped my cooking in the last year or so it’s applying the concept of “mise en place”. Mise en place is a French term meaning “set in place”. In many ways I feel that it has made me a better, more efficient home cook (when I remember do it!). And when I don't, I always regret it.
The idea behind mise en place is to have everything ready to go before you start cooking a dish. Have your ingredients ready (and prepared), have the tools you need at hand, have the cookware you will need out and ready to go, read your recipe and know exactly how you will get your recipe done.
Mise en place has helped reduce my frustration and my mistakes. Have you ever gotten part way through a recipe and tried to remember if you added a spice or an ingredient? I have! Or have you ever started cooking a recipe and realized that the ingredient (say, chopped onions) will need to be prepped (requiring you to stop cooking and start chopping)? I have! Have you had a mixture ready to go into the oven only to realize you can’t find the right baking dish? I sure have! A few of these problems can actually ruin your dish. They can throw off your timing (which, depending on your recipe, can be critical) and it can certainly cause frustration.
I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips to make sure you have a good mise en place:
- Review your recipe. Know all the steps involved. Make sure you have all the ingredients, understand the techniques you’ll need to use, etc. Make sure you have purchased (or grown and harvested) all the ingredients you need. Also look carefully for unexpected steps that could trip you up. For example, does the recipe call for dry pasta or cooked pasta. Does the rice need to be cooked and cooled? Look for things that could be done in advance - and that could mess you up later.
- Clear your space. Make sure you have enough room to work. Make sure it is well lit. It seems like a little thing, but way too often I have found myself with too small a space to cook - even though I have a pretty big kitchen. How that happens I will never know. Just make sure you have plenty of space to move around and set everything out that you will need.
- Prepare your ingredients. Chop onions, dice chicken, measure out spices and broth, etc. I have found that chopping all the ingredients and placing them in separate bowls or even in small plastic bags is important. You can combine ingredients that will be used together. For instance, if using minced onions and peppers together in a recipe, you can mince each and place them in the same bowl.
- Hint: Lifehacker had a great idea - use a muffin tin to limit the number of small bowls you might need to clean later (and take up less space). Read more here: Use a Muffin Tin as Mise en Place for a Clean and Tidy Kitchen.
- Get your tools ready. Have all your tools at hand. Pull out the cutting board, spatula, knives, mixing bowls, etc. where you can reach them.
- Pull out the cookware. It’s much better to be digging through those cabinets now rather than later when things are bubbling on the stove! Have them close at hand. And double-check to make sure you have the right cookware in the right sizes.
- Review your recipe again. Make sure you really, really know what steps you will need to take to get this recipe done. As you do this review go ahead and set up your miss en plea. Put everything where it needs to be to make your cooking efficient, smooth, and easy.
- Heat things up. Cranking up the heat could be one of those things that gets in your way. Everything's ready and then you need another 10-15 minutes to preheat or boil water. Go ahead. Start this early. If the oven needs to be preheated, get it started. If you will need boiling water, get it started.
- Hint: I often warm water not quite to boiling. That way, when it’s time to boil it, it’s only a quick jump from warm to boiling. This way you’re not losing a lot of your water to steam, but you’re also not starting from cold water.
- Launch. Look over your miss en place one more time. Everything ready? Start cooking.
Try this. Consciously try to use the concept of mise en place throughout December.
Trust me. By having everything set in place you will make things SO much easier on yourself. Sometimes cooking can be hard enough. Who needs the additional last-minute chaos? Let's make cooking easier and more enjoyable!