Mise en place (literally “putting in place”) is a French phrase defined by the Culinary Institute of America as “everything in place”, as in set up. It is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that he or she expects to prepare during his/her shift.
Recipes are reviewed to check for necessary ingredients and equipment. Ingredients are measured out, washed, chopped, and placed in individual bowls. Equipment, such as spatulas and blenders, are prepared for use, and ovens are preheated. Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints.
It also refers to the preparation and layouts that are set up and used by line cooks at their stations in a commercial or restaurant kitchen.
The concept of having everything in its place as applied to the work in a kitchen is likely to have become a staple around the time of Auguste Escoffier, who is well known for his development of the brigade system of running a kitchen.
Here are some of my observations of mise en place for the home cook:
1. Read your recipe through at least 3 times. I have never regretted doing this. I often find that something has to “marinate overnight” or “sit in the fridge” for a period of time, adding to the overall cooking time.
2. Make sure you have all of the correct ingredients in the correct amounts on hand. This helps avoid last minute runs to the market.
3. It is far better to make stews, casseroles, daubes, soups, etc. the day before you plan to serve them. They will be just fine and, in the case of stews and daubes, the flavors will improve with time. You will be less stressed and more in control of your meal.
4. Remember that failure is okay. If we didn’t have kitchen failures, we’d have nothing interesting to discuss. The best stories are those of our culinary mishaps. A botched attempt is better than no attempt at all. This is why take-out was invented.
I dedicate this blog to my friend David, who made Julia Child’s Bouef Bourguignon this weekend. Apparently it turned out quite well. I only know this because I received 5 phone calls from him as he was in “crisis” mode. David, I love you, but PLEASE, for the love of God, read the recipe throughly before you attempt to recreate it at home. Okay, David, you can shoot me now for mentioning you in this blog.