Has this ever happened to you: You’re in the middle of cooking dinner, and you open the cupboard to reach for an herb or spice only to find that you’re out of it? Or you cut into the bread or cake you just baked, only to realize that you forgot to add a key ingredient? It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit. The worst is when you don’t realize you omitted an ingredient until you serve whatever it is you made to company and it just doesn’t taste right.
I used to think the occasional disaster was just the cost of doing business when it came to cooking and baking, but I’ve recently learned that these kitchen catastrophes can quite easily be avoided. How? By using mise en place. That may sound like an intimidating and highly-technical skill only available to the trained chef. And, indeed, professional chefs use this technique. But it’s actually quite simple to learn and understand, easy to use, and can transform your cooking and baking more than any other single cooking skill.
So what is this strange-sounding technique? Mise en place (pronounced MEES ahn plahs), literally “put in place” but more commonly translated “everything in place”, is a French cooking term, which simply refers to assembling all of your ingredients and equipment before you begin cooking. You read through your recipe, get out all your ingredients, measure, wash, chop, toast, bring to room temperature, etc., and get all of your pots, pans, bowls, utensils, and other equipment ready.
Sounds easy enough, right? It really is. So why go through the extra step, not to mention dirtying the additional bowls and containers, to have everything laid out like a TV cooking show? Simple. Because it’s transformational, in several ways. First, you will avoid those unpleasant surprises, where you reach for an ingredient you always keep on-hand, only to realize you’re out of it. Next, you won’t find yourself knee-deep in a sauce that needs to be stirred constantly, only to realize you need to peel and chop the next three ingredients. Also, you will be familiar with the recipe, so there won’t be any other surprises (like needing a piece of equipment you don’t have, or having to stop and Google a technique you aren’t familiar with).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, by familiarizing yourself with the recipe and having everything you need at hand and ready to go, you will cook and bake with a whole new level of confidence and ease that you never knew possible. This last point is almost impossible to overstate, but it’s also something you have to experience to really appreciate. By having everything you need ready to go, you really will feel like a professional chef.
So hopefully mise en place doesn’t seem like such mystery now. Give it a try the next time you cook or bake; you’ll see what I mean.