Mise en Place
What is it?
- It’s a cooking school in Virginia.
- It’s apparently a restaurant in Florida that I would link to, but their website plays music and I find that annoying. Especially if there’s no easy way to turn the music off. You can Google it yourself if you don’t mind that kind of thing.
- Or it’s a phrase describing a school of thought for cooking. Like Wikipedia believes. Or Epicurious. Or the Reluctant Gourmet. Or how Christopher Kimball told the Boston Globe.
It’s how I make sure I’m not burning things. Or forgetting things. Or missing things.
Mise en place is the practice of preparing everything before you cook. I mean, everything. You don’t just check to make sure you have all the ingredients. You measure things. You chop or dice or mince things. You find your spatula and your wooden spoon and your meat thermometer and your sauce pan. If you’re really into it, you put all of those things on a tray, along with a copy of the recipe. You prepare everything as if you are your own sous chef, so that while you’re cooking, you just have to think about cooking. You never have to worry about what else you need to do, because it’s already done. When your mind is free of all those other concerns, you can really notice when your onions turn golden or when your garlic becomes fragrant or when your oil begins to shimmer. Cooking with your full attention will help you bring out the flavor of each ingredient, and you’ll end up with a far better dish than you would have had otherwise.
I don’t practice mise en place all the time. Sometimes, I’m inventing as I go and I just can’t figure out what else I want to put in a dish until I smell it cooking. Sometimes, I’ve made the recipe so many times that I don’t even have to look at it anymore. When I’m making Mexican Rice, I know that I can puree tomatoes and onions while my rice is browning. I know that I can chop cilantro while it’s baking. I don’t need to do all the steps in advance because I’ve practiced the process a bazillion times. If you’re at that point with a recipe, just do what works for you. Don’t worry too much about the rest.
For a new recipe, though? Mise en place can be the difference between everything going perfectly and scraping burned who-knows-what out of your favorite skillet. Trust me, I know.