Mise en place in translation means is “set in place”, often translated to “everything in its place”.
Perhaps part of the reason cooking and baking can feel rewarding as well as relaxing is that there is a science to, and the unofficial science is something even the most novice cook in the kitchen can quickly learn – mise en place. But what exactly is it and what is the art of a truly effective mise en place? That is what today’s post/episode is all about.
When I attended both Patricia Wells and Susan Hermann Loomis’ cooking classes in France, mise en place was de rigeur. Each day upon arrival into their respective kitchens and to our assigned cooking stations, the food was already either prepared and arranged in the necessary bowls, or at the very least the ingredients were waiting to be prepared along with the necessary bowls. As well, the recipe was clearly typed and propped up and ready to go to ensure ease of preparation.
As you will see in some of the images included in today’s post, I was in awe and absolutely inspired by the organization in both kitchens. From Patricia Wells having multiple ceramic canisters complete with a label for multiple spatulas, peelers, and any other tool she would need to have her students use, to Susan Hermann’s knives neatly and safely stored in the middle of her custom wooden kitchen island, every kitchen tool had a home, and all of the items we would need or that were regularly used were easy to find and thoughtfully placed where they would be the most handy to grab while cooking.
While mise en place often brings our attention to the recipe or meal we are cooking at the moment and the ingredients that are needed, in a larger context, mise en place is your kitchen, how you arrange it, how you work within it well, and the tools you welcome into your artistic space – your batterie de cuisine.
I have found my kitchen, especially my kitchen in my rental in which I lived for four years, to be indeed an artist’s sanctuary of sorts because you are creating, you are exploring. Part of why I loved that kitchen so much (the kitchen you see in Seasons 1 & 2 of my cooking show) is due to how I felt completely at ease moving about it in, having enough space for everything I needed and everything being easy to locate and quickly so.
I am currently in the process of curating my new kitchen into a similar space so that I feel absolutely comfortable moving from here to there and finding exactly what I need. I look forward to making progress on it this spring if all goes well, and fingers crossed, hopefully have it ready to go for Season 3. But in the meantime, I am keeping in mind how a kitchen must be organized, how it needs to function for the cook that calls it home, that is the foundation of mise en place, and now let’s talk about the benefits and how to create your very own successful mise en place each time you step into your own kitchen.
1.Ensures you are prepared for the recipe you wish to enjoy
2. Saves time
3. Saves the food
4. Deepens enjoyment of the cooking experience
How to “Mise en Place”
1.Determine what type of mise en place you need
In theory, you will eventually come to a point where you tend to mise en place each time, but each recipe or meal or dish will be approached in its unique way. If it is a dish you enjoy frequently, such as a go-to breakfast, your mise en place will be a default you don’t even think about any more.
In such a case, my steel oats is in a cannister by the stove with the 1/4 cup measuring spoon that I use inside, the chia seeds are in a cannister that I simply pour out of, also by the stovetop, the salt and butter on the other side of the stove, and voila, aside from the cream, when I include it, it remains in the fridge until it is needed.
Mise en place can be as simple as having your go-to items at the ready at all times, but it can also be for the detailed recipe in which case all of the ingredients are pre-measured and placed in their own separate dishes and bowls.
2. Read the entire recipe, twice.
Not only do you want to read the ingredients list, but be sure to read the instructions as well, and why I recommend twice is often I will read too quickly the first time and accidentially skip over something.
But even if you are a close reader on the first read-through, reading twice confirms the order you will need the ingredients as well as how they should be prepared – sliced, diced, left whole, etc..
Back to the ingredients: do you have what you need? enough of what you need? Double check.
If preparing your mise en place ahead of time, either the morning of or the day or two before, begin making a list of what you need to pick up at the market (and how much).
3. Find the necessary dishes, bowls, containers.
As you become fluent in your kitchen, knowing which dishes you enjoy preparing and eating and sharing, you will with time begin to have the necessary dishes, bowls and containers you need. Along the way to building your batterie de cuisine (literally: kitchen artillery; otherwise known as kitchenware), use dishes that work well for what you need. They may not all look neat and properly sized, but they will work.
4. Find the necessary kitchen tools you will need and have them at-the-ready
Along with having the ingredients you need, locating and having at-the-ready the necessary tools will speed up the process and increase your enjoyment of the cooking process. Beginning with a sharpened knife, and the proper knife for what you are doing, having each of these tools ready to work for you is an often unstated, but vital part of an effective mise en place.
In Patricia Wells’ kitchen in Provence, each utensil is given its own cannister and labeled.
5. Prepare the food as needed
From peeling, slicing, de-veining and cleaning the seafood or meat, tend to the food, so that as the recipe calls for each ingredient, all you have to do is quickly add it to the pan or bowl or grill or, you get the idea. 🙂
6. Place the food/ingredients in order of use in the recipe.
Depending upon whether you are left or right-handed, place the ingredients on the preferred side and in the order they will be added to the recipe. If items will not be used for some time, you can place them further away so they won’t be knocked over or accidentially added, etc. .
7. Have a large bowl for discards and items to be taken to the compost or garbage.
Rachael Ray creatively called hers the “thanks for coming” bowl, and having such an item as part of your mise en place is a simple way of keeping your kitchen clean, or at least cleaner, as you make your way through your meal preparation. A large bowl enables there to be more workable space so you can swiftly move from one task to another without having to constantly clean up along the way.
8. Refrain from multi-tasking
As tempting as it may be, doing more than the task of cooking while you are preparing a meal increases the chances of overcooking, burning and therefore ruining the ingredients you have thoughtfully welcomed into your kitchen. Speaking from experience, even when I just cook my breakfast in the morning, when I go off to my office while the steel oats are cooking, there have been time when I have become so engrossed in what I was doing for work that I lost track of time. Respect the food, and give it your full attention until the cooking is complete.
Ideas to Improve Mise en Place
- Keep a well-stocked épicerie at all times
- Begin to gradually pick up small bowls and dishes that catch your eye at second-hand shops, yard sales and antique boutiques, even brocantes if you have the opportunity to travel to France. Not only is it fun to treasure hunt, but they will add your signature to your kitchen.
- Assess what tools you need in your kitchen and invest in quality items.
- Equally, upon assessment, begin to edit/remove tools you do not need to provide more space for those items you do, making them easier to find.
- Set up your kitchen so that it works for you
I feel fortunate to have had the opportunities I had in attending both of the cooking classes with Patricia Wells and Susan Hermann Loomis over the past two summers in France. I continue to welcome their ideas and incorporate them into my daily cooking practice.
The primary purpose for mise en place is to make your time in the kitchen successful. Impressively, the number of dishes and the multi-course meals each class would enjoy every single time we sat down to dine for a couple of hours at first glance would have seen impossible, but when it is broken down into clear steps, ingredients and amounts prepped and ready, it seems all but impossible.
Hopefully you too will find even more pleasure when you step into your kitchen. I certainly have an even deeper appreciation as well as fondness for the time I spend cooking and preparing and of course, enjoying the meals that are created.
Have a look at videos from both of my cooking class experiences as well as the detailed posts that accompany each one below.
Check out The Simply Luxurious Kitchen and see Mise en Place at work in my very own kitchen!
~Agatha Raisin, Acorn TV