I remember, in the days before we got the Food Network, I used to watch cooking shows with French chefs on public television. They would come on after I got home from school and I just had a tiny window to get a half-hour of my food fix in. Although I didn’t really cook back then, it was fun to watch the chefs and learn about all the cool things you could do with food. Watching those shows introduced me to the term “mise en place” at a young age, and it wasn’t until I went to college and started cooking for myself did I learn how essential this way of thinking became in my cooking.
“Mise en place” essentially means that everything is put in its place. I am naturally an organized, can’t-deal-with-big-messes sort of person anyways, so when I cook and my husband walks in, he doesn’t feel like a tornado went through the kitchen! It’s a way of being organized in the kitchen, so that your cooking can be fluid. You shouldn’t have too many distractions – like taking 20 minutes to find a particular pot (and realizing it is in the basement), or forgetting to chop up some celery and getting an extra cutting board and knife to do just that. If you’re following a recipe, you should read the entire recipe a couple times before getting all your materials together. If you’re just winging it, think of what ingredients you’ll need, what equipment you’ll use, and what your methods are before getting started. I’m a little tight on space in the kitchen, so being well-prepared and organized is essential for my sanity. Here’s a few tips on getting your “mise en place” on:
- Use one cutting board to prep all your vegetables/herbs/garlic/etc: Put your prepped ingredients in separate bowls if you’re using them at different times in the cooking, and combine them if you’re using them altogether. For example, garlic and onions get combined in one bowl if they’re added to the pot in the beginning, the kale in a separate bowl if you’re adding it at the end.
- Use a separate cutting board for meats: I like to use a wooden cutting board for fruits and vegetables, and a large plastic one for meats.
- Clean as you go! This is muy importante. Wipe down counters, clean big pots and pans, and minimize the clutter. The more messy you are, the more your cooking gets hampered. One time, someone (who shall remain nameless) decided to make dinner for us, and it was something she hadn’t made before. Although the intent was sweet, my kitchen looked like it was going through a home renovation! Needless to say, she took a few hours and was interrupted quite a bit (I had to leave the area because I didn’t want to stress her out!). Cleaning as you go will streamline the process.
- Review your cooking process. Can you sear something in a pan and then finish it off in the oven? If so, use an oven-safe frying pan and you won’t have to use a separate roasting pan in the oven. Think of what equipment you can combine to save you time on washing extra stuff.
- “Mise en place” for the whole week! When I get home from the grocery store, I rinse and chop up green onions and cilantro and put them in a plastic container with paper towels so they’ll stay fresh. I use these for garnishes in soups and stir-fries all the time, so they never sit for long in my fridge. Plus, if all I have to make is a simple chicken pho and all my veggies are in the fridge, I cut down on having to drag my cutting board out to chop up a few measly herbs! Right now I’ll take the pomegranate seeds out of its fruit. I can sprinkle some seeds on my salad tomorrow and yogurt in the morning. Simple!
Making sure you have everything “mise en place” will actually make cooking easier and more enjoyable. How cool would it be to just dump a bowl of veggies to saute, rather than realize you’ve forgotten to cut red bell peppers, and meanwhile, burning the onion and garlic on the stove because you’re scrambling?