The Knife Block

Mise en place, it’s all about the preparation

Mise en place is a French phrase meaning "putting in place". In English it's pronounced (roughly) Meez ahn plahs. With respect to cooking this means gathering and measuring all of the components of your recipe prior to starting to cook. In cooking school before we could begin a recipe, we had to have our "meez" checked. Prior to cooking school, I wasn't really in the habit of "meezing" unless I was baking. For savory concoctions, I would work on the fly getting things together while other components were in process. In my head I saw the lack of "meez" preparation as more efficient. You chop your onions and begin sweating them in your pan with olive oil and then start chopping the next thing. Seems fine, right? Well, not really.

mise en placeI can't stress enough the importance of mise en place for the home cook and the professional. Mise en place is not only the gathering of your ingredients-cuts of meat, spices, chopped vegetables and other components-it is also the gathering your equipment. Sure you've thought of the ingredients for a particular dish. You had to check your pantry, and if the recipe ingredients were ‘out of stock', you went to the store and bought them, so you know you have everything that's called for in the recipe.

But, what about equipment? Have you pulled together the necessary tools to cook the dish like pans, wooden spoons, thongs, whisk, spatula, strainer, etc...? This is KEY, especially for recipes with time constraints. The minute it takes you to find the whisk could be the minute your eggs coagulate. The minute you rummage through your drawer for that wooden spoon could be the difference between translucent onions and browned onions. Why fuss with measuring cups and spoons while you're in the middle of actually cooking.

By all means, read your recipe. I'm not suggesting you have a pinch of salt or 4 whole cloves and ½ tablespoon of peppercorns in separate dishes if they all get added to the pot at the same time. Mix them together as you measure. It will save on clean up.

In addition, mise en place is incredibly helpful in remembering every ingredient in a recipe. Let's face it, in life there are lots of distractions. You could be in the middle of a preparation and take a moment to appreciate the aria you're playing as your creative soundtrack...or maybe to do a little dance to Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" if that strikes your fancy as an inspirational soundtrack! Mise en place helps you to see what's left to be added.

Here's an example that happened to me just the other night. I was preparing a braise of chicken thighs with green olives, onions and golden raisins. My puppy seemed a bit too quiet in the other room, and I had to take a peek at what little Daisy girl was up to. Nothing bad, thank goodness. She was chewing on a bone. When I stuck my head around the door frame to check on her, she looked up and was just too cute, so I had to go over and give her a quick pat on the head.

Then it was back to the kitchen and washing my hands. Now a braise isn't a time sensitive recipe, so the distraction didn't put the dish in jeopardy. However, that quick break in my concentration caused me to put the braise in the oven to work its slow magic without all the spices. Luckily I had "meezed" my recipe. When I turned around I saw all the spices- cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns - still sitting on the counter, I quickly pulled the Le Crueset out of the oven and added them. Let's face it. Things happen. Meez. It helps you to get the desired result.

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Tags: mise en place, kitchen prep