Mise en Place is Critical to Good Cooking at Home
I know what you are thinking," I thought this was a culinary guide for novice cooks, and now you are throwing some fancy French terminology at us."
All mise en place, pronounced (MEEZ ahn plahs) or (mi zɑ̃ ˈplas), means is to have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking. Translated, "to put in place."
It's kind of like when you go on a trip. First, you ensure you have everything you need and are not forgetting anything, then fold everything nicely and neatly so it fits into your bags.
Or how about when you are changing the oil in your car? Wait a minute, who changes their oil anymore?
How about balancing your checkbook?
You get all your canceled checks and deposit slips in order by arranging them by date or number before you start reconciling your statement. If you don't, you know you will be returning and starting from the beginning.
What Most Home Cooks Do
If you are like many home cooks, me included more times than I want to admit, you jump right into a recipe with little or no prep figuring you can chop the garlic while the onions are sautéing.
You get four steps into the recipe and find you need to reduce some balsamic vinegar before adding it to the dish. Now you are scurrying around trying to get it done before the onions and garlic overcook, and your timing is completely thrown off.
I'm not sure why it is so challenging to get novice cooks to accept this idea, but it's similar to asking someone to preheat their grill or sauté pan before starting to cook. How many of us go to the gas grill, turn it on for a couple of minutes, throw on a chunk of meat, and start grilling? It's the same with searing or sautéing on your stovetop.
Let those pans heat some before you start cooking. If you are cooking with oil, it should be almost smoking before adding your main ingredients.
Before You Start
Before you can even start preparing the ingredients for cooking, you want to ensure you have all the ingredients. This is the ultimate Mise en Place!
I don't think the great French chefs had this in mind when they came up with the term, but how many of you have started a recipe only to find out you were missing one or two key ingredients?
So you jump in the car or call a neighbor and plead for some Port wine that the Beef Tenderloin in a Port wine reduction calls for. I've been there.
Here's where my wife and I approach cooking from different points of view. She is much more organized than I am and never finds herself running out to the store at the last minute.
She discovers a delicious-looking recipe in one of my many cooking magazines, makes a LIST of ingredients that she will need, goes to the store and buys all the ingredients on her LIST, and then comes home to start prepping all the ingredients on her LIST.
This is the way to do it. Forget about trying to wing it like I often do and think, "Oh, if I don't have what I need, I will just find a great substitute for it."
No way. Doesn't work. Maybe if you are a trained professional, you could get away with it, but it is not a good way for a beginner home cook to learn.
And if you ever have the opportunity to meet a professional chef sometime, ask them how much time they put into mise en place daily.
Watching the Pros
If you ever dine in a restaurant with an open kitchen with a counter you can sit at and watch the chefs do their work, give it a go. These types of restaurants are especially significant if you are dining alone.
Just before I left Park City and moved to Philadelphia, I had dinner alone at one of my favorite local restaurants, Sage Grill, which has an open kitchen and observation counter. It is a great way to watch the professionals do their thing, and when it gets jam-packed, there's more action than a roller derby.
What amazes me is how they can get out so many appetizers, salads, entrees, & desserts with relative ease. Sure they have a crew of three or four, but think about how much work goes into cooking a gourmet dinner for six in your own home. These guys are putting out hundred-plus dinners per night.
What you notice is their mise en place. Each station is fully prepped with all the ingredients necessary to make a particular dish.
All the meats, chicken, and fish are cut and de-boned; the fresh herbs for seasoning sauces are washed, cut, and separated into small bowls; the vegetables are sliced, diced, or julienned to the correct size, and everything is ready to go because when the show gets going, there is no time to go back and dice up some carrots. The show must go on.
We don't see the hours spent during the day when prep chefs are working hard to get everything ready for the evening event. I would guess as many hours going into prepping for a typical night in a good restaurant as there are for actual cooking.
According to The New Professional Chef, mise en place:
"means far more than simply assembling all the ingredients, pots and pans, plates, and serving pieces needed for a particular period. Mise en place is also a state of mind. Someone who has truly grasped the concept can simultaneously keep many tasks in mind, weighing and assigning each their proper value and priority. This assures that the chef has anticipated and prepared for every situation logically occurring during a service period."
Wow! It looks like a bit of mise en place could work in all our personal and professional lives too.
Example of Mis En Place
An excellent example of using this technique that we all seem to understand is making a simple sandwich. Think about it. You gather all the ingredients you need and prepare them for assembly.
You may have to make the tuna salad, slice the tomatoes, or grill the chicken, but you have all the makings before you even think of putting the sandwich together.
Make sense? So why not apply the same technique to all your cooking?
Another excellent example of using this technique is when you stir-fry. Because everything gets cooked quickly, you must have all your ingredients ready.
Check out my Cooking Primer on Stir-Fry, then try it out on a recipe for Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry.
I promise if you practice this one skill and "put everything in place" before you get started, your dishes will come out better, and you will enjoy the act of cooking more than ever.
Excellent article and well written. As a kitchen manager and prep chef, the importance of mise en place cannot be over stated. Every point of this article hits home and is something I try and instill in both professional and home cooks alike.
Thanks for stating it so perfectly.
Joshua "Shua" Boylan
Hops & Hominy
I really have just GOT TO start doing this! Just making a lemon loaf and after putting in oven and cleaning up realized I have left out the salt. A bit of pre-measuring would have prevented this error. It has happened many times. I will really try from now to mise en place! It even sounds good and impressive.
Joseph F. Lahue
Excellent and well-written article. Having everything in place before one starts is critical. It amazes me how many times I have assumed we still had an ingredient and we were out and it did not make it on the shopping list. I am in the process of learning to plan on a weekly basis at home so I ensure all ingredients are at home and readily available. I have also learned some valuable lessons of having everything cut, diced and portioned in advance as the stove seems hotter and the time seems shorter when you are in the mix of it all. Thank you very much for investing your time in writing this great information. I found it very helpful.
Joseph F. Lahue
Call me the odd home cook but I just absolutely love having all my ingredients out and measured into small bowls (Dollar Tree little glass bowls). It makes me feel really good about what I am preparing. I love to cook and never mind prepping for hubby when he gets the notion to fix something. Great article.
I don't find that odd either as a home cook. I am pretty sure my desire to get it together beforehand began with Thanksgiving when I was growing up.
It was a three person mission just to get the seasonings. Mom to yell them out at the last possible moment, me to dig them out of the fridge, and dad to chop lol.
As a result as an adult, I need to have the pieces together that can be together before I start cooking. 😊
I really appreciated this article. I like to cook and learned through experience (and watching TV cooks) how they mise en place. I do it now = although I still screw up, but it is so much easier to have it ready. I still have problems when everything is ready and finished at the same time getting the food in the bowls without some stress.
An excellent article.
I have been juice fasting and trying to improve my mise en place to cut down on the production time. It not only helps me stay efficient in the kitchen, when I set up the glassware I am going to serve from and set up my hardware, I can focus on the kind of flavor I am looking for, set the produce out and build my drinks from there.
When I was a grade school age cook (in 4H), one of the very first things we were taught was to do a mise en place (though it wasn't called that). Read through the entire recipe and be sure you understand it, assemble all ingredients, prep and measure, then you are ready to cook.
It's a life long habit.
Firstly, most people don't balance their checkbooks (checking accounts), let alone use checks anymore.
Aside from military efficiency, where I understand mise en place was adapted from, I'm reminded of any profession where one uses tools. The most efficient in any profession are those who are prepared.
Absolutely GREAT article! Turns out, I've been doing MISE EN PLACE my whole life, and just referring to it as my "kitchen prep." Turns out that, for what I've been picked on and teased about from friends, family, and even my partner, as being OCD and anal-retentive, was just how I liked to cook; having one's ingredients prepped, nearby and ready at hand just makes cooking less stressful and MUCH more enjoyable! Now, I am not a professional chef, but have cooked in restaurants before and learned how important "prep" was in the kitchen, and like every point the article made was a solutely right on. I just never heard the French term for my "kitchen OCD" before. Again, thank you for this wonderful article! I cannot wait to point it out the next time someone in my life teases me while they are enjoying my DELICIOUS meal, that came out all on-time and without stress! Who knew?
I've been working my way towards la mise en place for years without even realizing it! Taking inventory to make sure I have all the ingredients needed is first and foremost. If I am baking, I lay out butter and eggs and whatever else needs to be warmed to room temperature. Then I select what I need from bowls, pots, pans, etc. (I have trained myself to preheat the oven at that point if I am using the oven.) Then comes the chopping/mincing, measuring out of dry ingredients and so on. All of this is done on a kitchen table.
Still, something was missing... and then I read the current issue of Bon Appetit (April 2016) which suggests using a sheet pan for setting up the ingredients and introduced me to the lovely French term! When I googled the term, I came upon this excellent article and the comments, all based on real life experience. Thanks for treating this somewhat obscure topic, Reluctant Gourmet!
The Reluctant Gourmet
You are very welcome Virginia and thanks for your kind words.
This good post was high in Google results, and deserves it. The part I liked most was that not only should you have all your ingredients on hand and at hand before you start, but better still is to visualize what you're going to do and when you'll do it. This doesn't matter so much when I'm baking cookies, but when I make a lemon meringue pie, there's a lot going on all at once, blind baking the crust, whipping the meringue, and the pot of pudding on the stove starting to boil. It's mighty hard to get things to come out right by just winging it.
This is actually not correct lol.... mise en plac means having all the utensils and preparation items ready for service.... it doesnt mean having all your ingredients mesaured out lol...
(source) been in the culinary arts industry for 12 years.
G. Stephen Jones
Christofer, thanks for sharing but I have to respectively disagree.
Is the phrase mise en place a rip off of the cinematic term mise en scene or the other way around?
Terri L Geer
I never knew that there was a name for this until recently.
It always made sense to me to read the recipe like 10 times so that I know exactly what steps to take, and when. To make sure that I had all of the ingredients (or substitutes that I like better). And to make sure that all of the veggies, meat and seasonings are ready to cook with.
As a home chef, I also make sure to have a dishpan of hot, soapy water to put my used bowls, dishes and utensils in after I've emptied them. I've actually done a full Thanksgiving dinner that way and had nothing left to wash except the table settings.