This is the first in our series of “Kitchen Zen” articles, aimed at making your cooking experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
Mise en place is a hotly contested topic among cooks. Essentially, the term can be defined as “putting stuff in its place,” but in practice, it refers to the pre-measuring, preparing and laying out of ingredients that are going to be used in a recipe or multiple recipes so that they are at hand when you need them. Some swear by this method of preparation, and others just look at it as great way to dirty more dishes.
Now, if you’re just heating up some leftovers or making something simple, there’s no need to be quite as fastidious about your preparation, but if you’re building a meal from scratch, or even just cooking a recipes with more than a few ingredients, an effective mise en place can save a lot of headaches. Sure, you’re going to have to wash a couple of pinch bowls when you’re done, but the inconvenience it prevents is well worth the extra couple of seconds when it comes to clean-up.
First, it forces you to be prepared. Prepping the ingredients beforehand prevents any fun surprises, like realizing halfway through you don’t have enough of a particular ingredient, or accidentally burning something on the stove because you had to mince a shallot before you could do anything else. Having everything chopped, measured and most importantly, handy, when you need it means that you won’t lose focus on what you’re doing and make a mistake. As an added bonus, it forces you to read a recipe in depth before you start cooking, which means not having to refer back to the page quite as often.
Second, it actually makes cleanup easier. Think about it – how many times have you completed a recipe with a lot of ingredients and been left with a counter full of bottles, cans and spice jars? When you prep in advance, you don’t have to give up your valuable counter space to containers and food waste.
Finally, and this is a more personal point than the others, but I find that mise en place just makes cooking more enjoyable. Once I have everything prepped and in front of me, all that’s left to do is concentrate on cooking, and that’s what it’s really about. If you can make something delicious and healthy and have fun doing it, there’s no reason not to do it all the time.
The best part? All it takes to make your cooking that much easier is a few bowls. I have a few small ones that I use for spices, some medium ones I use most often for things like chopped vegetables, and a couple of larger bowls just in case. You can spend a fortune on these at cooking stores, but they don’t need to be fancy – as long as they can hold a diced onion, they’re good enough.
It may take a bit of time for you to figure out your own personal mise, but once you have a system that works for you, I doubt you’ll ever go back. Give it a try, and see if mise en place makes your cooking experience smoother and more enjoyable.
Do you have a kitchen hack that helps you cook better? Tell us about it, and we may include it in a future “Kitchen Zen” post.