As much as I love to cook, there are days when I don’t. When I’m in Busy Mom-too much work—phone ringing off the hook—life is total chaos–just get it done mode, I am not a pretty sight in the kitchen.
I barely read the recipe (or don’t even use one), search for ingredients as I need them, frequently yelling to no one “where’s my whatever?” I grab the pans one at a time, paw through the cabinets to find the right lid for my pan, open and close drawers looking for the meat fork or thermometer, make noise, make a huge mess and finally, exhaustingly, dinner is ready. That’s what happens when I don’t think about or attend to my “mise en place”.
This useful French phrase literally means “putting in place.” It simply means that you organize and arrange all of the things that you need to make your recipe—before you start. When I remember to do it properly, cooking is interesting, fun, therapeutic, efficient and the finished product always looks and tastes better.
The basic steps are:
1) Read the recipe all the way through to make sure you have all of the ingredients and equipment you’ll need.
2) Find your spatula, blender, whisk, measuring spoons and cups, pots and pans—and serving dishes–get your equipment out and make sure it’s ready to use.
3) Measure out all of the ingredients you’ll need (it helps to have a set of those great clear bowls to put things in after they’re measured)
4) Wash, rinse, slice, mince, chop, or parboil, blanch, steam any ingredients that need individual preparation and put them into bowls.
5) Preheat the oven or stove if needed.
Now you have your mise en place—everything in place.
The amazing thing about cooking this way is how relaxing it is to cook. And how much faster it goes. All of the hard work is loaded on the front end—and once you start cooking, you don’t have to stop to find or fix something. No more over-browned garlic or onions—because you ran away to look for the paprika—no overcooked chicken because you had to stop and open a bottle of white wine to deglaze the pan—no burned pans because you quit stirring the sauce to grate the Parmesan.
Life is nicer with mise en place—we can be in charge! A rare and happy thing in this crazy, unpredictable world of ours.