Friday, February 20, 2015

Mise En Place

How many of you have started a recipe only to find you are missing one or two of the key ingredients? Pronounced mee zah 'plas, is a French term which means 'putting in place'. It is a chef secret used in professional kitchens to describe the practice of organizing, preparing and arranging the ingredients to a point where it is ready to be used in a dish during food service. 
Mise en place for Teriyaki Beef Stir Fry
It may be as simple as chopping vegetables, assembling sauces or washing and separating herbs into individual leaves. Or more time consuming components like caramelizing onions, slow cooking meats or cooking dried beans. It is the reason restaurants are able to deliver many different dishes to your table in a short amount of time. If you have ever eaten in a restaurant with an exposed kitchen, you will have witnessed the magic of mise en place. What you will not see is the hours spent during the day when prep chefs are working to get everything ready for a meal service. In a good restaurant as many hours go into prepping as there are for actual cooking. The main benefit of mise en place is the speed and ease of preparation to get food on the table after the customer has ordered. This translates to time saving and ease of preparation in your home kitchen too.
Stir fry, about 12 minutes to cook

Time sensitive recipes like a stir-fry are a good example; when food cooks quickly and must be added in a certain order. If you have company coming and are serving a dish that must be prepared at the last minute it is very beneficial to have everything prepped before guests arrive. Baking also benefits by say, preventing the use of salt instead of sugar or omitting an ingredient all together.
On cooking shows, TV Chefs use dozens of tiny bowls and ramekins to store measured ingredients they will need for a recipe. Sets of small prep bowls are available but not really necessary. I saw an interesting idea on America's Test Kitchen where they used a muffin tin with paper liners. This makes it easy to remove each from the tin when you're ready for the ingredient. Of course this would not work for liquid where you would use a small drinking glass, custard or measuring cup. Mise en place was taught early in culinary school, I prefer to use my assortment of prep bowls, ramekins and cups. Some may complain about extra dishes and the clean up of piles of tiny bowls used. There are several methods that will lighten the dish load... one, by making little piles on one or two larger plates. Keep each vegetable separate, this will work for the par-cooked vegetables to be all be added at the same time in the top photo. Uncooked veggies, minced herbs etc. can be kept in neat little piles on a cutting board or on another plate.
Another method is to layer all ingredients in one larger bowl. The trick to this method is to put the ingredients in the order you will need for cooking (eg. the one you need first will be on top) and separate each layer with a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap.This way you dirty only one bowl and have extra space on our counter.
Which ever method you choose, the importance of mise en place cannot be over stated for fast and flawless execution of any recipe. If you practice and incorporate this one basic skill before you get started, you will become a more organized and more efficient cook. The experience makes cooking more fun, it is pure joy to see all the colors and textures lined up ready to cook.

Till next week, Bon Appetit!

Photos by Sally Rae 

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea there was a name for this beyond "prep." You're always a source of great info, Sally. Keep it up.