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Mise en Place

by Elizabeth Skipper | September 10th, 2012 | Techniques, Tools, and Tips
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There are lots of tips a home cook can pick up from a culinary professional, and one of the most useful is that of “mise en place.” French, it means to put in place or everything in its place.

In a commercial kitchen, this is absolutely critical to a well-run kitchen and a calm, orderly staff. If you want to make your time in the kitchen more productive, more efficient, and more pleasant, it applies at home, too. Just as you’d lay out your supplies and tools for any home or craft project, you should do the same as you approach the task of cooking.

Start with a clean kitchen. You did make sure the counter and sink were cleared of dirty dishes and pots when you left it last, right? If not, make it a habit. It’s bad enough doing dishes when you’re finished cooking; it’s downright discouraging to have to begin that way.

You know the old expression, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” That’s especially true in the kitchen. I’m not going to tell you how to organize your kitchen – that’s another topic in itself – but store seldom-used things out of the way and often-used ones someplace handy. Return them to their proper place after use so you don’t have to spend time hunting them down. This applies to utensils, pots and pans, appliances, herbs and spices, and pantry staples equally.

Read the recipe through if you’re using one. Be sure you have all the ingredients needed. If something’s missing and time is short, maybe you want to make something else. Even if the convenience store or your neighbor is right around the corner, heading out half-way through preparing a dish will slow you down greatly. And you just know that you’ll discover something’s missing at the worst possible time, say perhaps when it’s time to fold the egg whites into the soufflé base. Ouch.

Then chop, dice, slice, measure/weigh, and lay out all your ingredients. Keep a variety of different size prep bowls on hand, and fill them as needed. TV chefs use tons of prep bowls for demonstrating purposes, but you can be more efficient. Are garlic and onions added to the recipe at the same time? Put them in the same bowl to avoid unnecessary washing up. Or lay them out in mounds on a plate and scrape them into the pan as called for. Making a spice cake? Put all the spices in one bowl if possible.

Does a baking dish need to be buttered or a sheet pan lined with parchment? Do it now. Do you need a large pot for boiling pasta and a skillet for making sauce? Get them both out. Get the mixer out and plugged in, the waffle iron pre-heating. Be sure the whisk, the wooden spoon, the cutting board and the right knives are in front of you.

Be thinking of clean-up, too. Have the trashcan handy – I drove my husband nuts for years because ours was out in the open where I could use it. Struggling to lift a lid or slide out a bin with dirty hands is unnecessary. A container for garbage, whether you compost or not, should be right there for peels and trimmings. Start with a dish pan or sink full of hot soapy water ready to accept utensils and pans as they’re dirtied. Washing or rinsing before loading the dishwasher later will be a breeze.

Can you visualize how smoothly your task will go with all this already done? No frantically trying to slice celery when the stir-fry is already underway and threatening to over-cook, no wondering where the basil is, no swearing because the pan isn’t ready for the cake batter… there’s no guarantee the phone won’t ring or someone else won’t need your attention, but you’ll be calm and able to deal with it. Ahhh. Cooking can be relaxing.

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