Mise en place~ A place for everything and everything in its place
Have you ever wondered how restaurants do it? How they can serve hundreds of people a night with a menu that has dozens of choices? In the end, it’s all about the mise en place.
Every day, cooks arrive hours before the restaurant opens to the public to prep for that day’s menu. They slice and dice, simmer and sear, and generally organize all the ingredients needed for every dish they are responsible for. In restaurant lingo, they “prep their mise en place”. Without it, they are lost.
Mise en place (pronounced meeze ehn plas) is a French term which loosely translates as “put in place”. This concept allows both professional and home cook alike, to prepare for one or a hundred in an efficient and seamless way, so that the dish or an entire meal comes together without delay.
Imagine this; you are making a chicken stir fry served with rice. Would you start cooking the rice after the vegetables? Of course not. The rice may take 40 minutes so you start that cooking first. Nor would you start to thaw frozen chicken after the wok was hot. Without realizing it, you probably already put some of the theory behind mise en place to work in your own kitchen by doing things in a certain order.
To really be efficient with preparation, you need to take it to the next level. Keeping with the stir fry example, next you would cut your vegetables; mince the garlic and ginger, slice the carrots and onions, dice the eggplant and mushrooms. If you wait to start cutting some of the vegetables after cooking, you may end up with burnt garlic, raw eggplant or over-cooked carrots. Having the mise en place ready allows you to cook that stir fry as intended, fast and hot, so that all the vegetables are cooked to the desired doneness. Finally, make sure you have any protein you might use, sliced and ready. You may even want to go as far as measuring out the various sauces and seasonings in advance. Then, once you heat that wok, all you have to do is add the ingredients; one, two, three…as they are ready to go into the pan.
The concept of mise en place is not only for fast paced dishes. It can help with complicated or slow cooked meals as well. Making your stock in advance means you can make soups and stews later with a real homemade flavor. Having your mise en place can help not only with the family dinner, but in planning large parties and preparing meals for a busy week ahead. You can use weekend time to prep ingredients for later. Slow cook meat which can later be used in tacos or stews. Cook rice and whole grains for use in hot side dishes and cold salads. Wash and chop vegetables for snacks, stir fries and pastas.
If you want to take advance preparation to the next level, you could prepare the base for several slow cooked meals in advance by cutting all the vegetables and meats for several meals. Portion the ingredients along with seasonings and possibly even the cooking liquid into freezer bags or containers and then freeze them for later use. Just pop a bag out, thaw, and put into the crockpot.
There is no area in cooking more important to mise en place than in baking. Measure out the flour, butter, sugar, salt baking powder before you start so you can be confident in your measurements. How many times have you been measuring flour into a bowl of wet ingredients and asked yourself, “was that four cups or five?” By that time, it’s too late to dump it out and start over. Sometimes even recipe instructions can be part of your mise en place; ever notice how many recipes start with these words “preheat oven to”? This is a critical instruction and if this step is missed, you could end up with a cake in pan ready to bake and a cold oven.
For large parties, having your mise en place ready is critical to the pacing of a successful meal.
Let’s say you are planning a dinner party for eight. You might have a salad, a soup, a roasted leg of lamb, and some side dishes. Don’t forget dessert!
- You’d want to have your lettuce washed, vegetables cut for the salad, and vinaigrette made before the guests arrive. This way, the salad can be assembled and dressed in less than 2 minutes.
- The soup would be made, and warming on the stove. Any garnish for the soup should be prepped and ready to go.
- To figure out the timing for the lamb, work backwards from when you want it on the table; calculate the cooking time based on weight, add resting time, and subtract that from when you want to eat.
- For your side dishes, think about if they can be made in advance (for example, scalloped potatoes) or if they need to be cooked right before serving (like sautéed fresh green beans). The potatoes can be made earlier in the day and put in the oven to bake before dinner (you’ll want to time this like the lamb). The green beans should be cleaned and cut, and for the mise en place, have garlic minced and fresh lemon and olive oil ready for the cooking process.
- Many desserts can be made the day before and will be ready to go. If not, the same preparations apply; have any garnishes ready (the cream whipped, sauces made, etc.), plates and dessert forks staged and waiting.
With a little advance planning, you can be enjoying that glass of wine with your guests instead of frantically running around the kitchen praying it all comes together at the same time.
So… are you ready to get your mise en place on?