Mise en place

January 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

In the restaurant world, a French term, mise en place, is widely used to refer to what is necessary for cooking a dish. It roughly translates to “put in place.” The idea is that before you begin assembling any dish, you must first have all the ingredients “put in place,” along with any additional tools you may need for the cooking process. This saves you the pain and stress of scrambling for that one thing you forgot after everything else is in a sautee pan on high heat.

If you are working in a restaurant, when dinner service starts, you may find that the chef gets angry with you if your mise is not en place. When cooking at home, you will very well likely find yourself getting angry if your mise is not en place. Proper cooking often requires high temperatures and quick cooking times to produce the best end result. For instance, whenever I’m doing Chinese or Thai cooking in a wok, I cook only on high heat, and once the oil is hot, it is a quick sequence of adding ingredients until the cooking is finished – ten minutes at most. There is really no time to chop that extra vegetable or measure out that little bit of sauce. Cooking requires focus and attention, things that are both shattered by a last minute scramble.

While it may seem frustrating or inefficient to wait until everything is absolutely ready to begin cooking, it really is the best way to proceed, especially when trying any recipe for the first time. And the frustration of patiently organizing your ingredients is nothing compared to the frustration of burning the vegetables you just prepared because you forgot about that one important spice in the back of your cabinet.

Mise en place goes beyond simply the ingredients for the dish, however. This also includes any tools you may need. Let’s say, for example, that you are deep frying some fish in a large pot. Your mise en place would also include the pot, the oil necessary for frying, a slotted spoon for getting the fish out of the oil when it is done cooking, and a tray lined with towels for absorbing excess oil from the fish. If you forget the spoon, your fish will overcook while you dig through your utensil drawer looking for it. If you forget the tray, you have nowhere to put the fish, and end up running around your kitchen with fish on a spoon.

When I’m following a recipe, especially a recipe I haven’t made before, I like to take the concept of mise en place one step further. Yes, I measure out all the soy sauce and oyster sauce I might need for my stir-fry recipe, but I will also keep these bottles out for easy access. All too often, I have followed a new recipe exactly, only to find out that the sauce is too thin or not flavored strongly enough for my tastes. I try to make sure I will not need to pull anything back out of the refrigerator or cabinet to adjust my seasoning at the last minute.

Like any skill, the secret to cooking lies in mastering the basic principles, and executing them as best you can. Mise en placeis one of these basic principles. It seems so simple as to go without saying. However, you shouldn’t over estimate your ability to juggle food preparation at the same time as cooking. Put everything in its place so it’s there when you need it.

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§ 2 Responses to Mise en place

  • Anonymous says:

    Have you been secretly watching me cook?

  • Ha! Just words of wisdom (to myself, as much as anybody else) since I've been through all of this on many occasions. When I was visiting my family around Thanksgiving, I made a meal for them. What was supposed to be a fun way of sharing food rapidly turned into me frantically throwing open cabinets and drawers in a kitchen I was utterly unfamiliar with. Things were certainly not put in place that day. Live and learn.

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