What is Mise en Place?

Posted on 04 Feb 2014 15:28

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Mise en Place Definition

Mise en place, pronounced meez-ahn-plahss, is a French cooking term which means a more exact translation would be something like "put into some places.""put into place." On TV cooking shows, such as on the Food Network, this term is usually used to refer to having all of your ingredients prepared and ready to use in your dish before you begin cooking. When chopped vegetables and all the other ingredients for a dish are laid out in little containers, to be handy at a moment's notice, the chefs call this the "mise en place."1 However, the term has much a much broader meaning then just preparing ingredients or gathering ingredients in advance of cooking.

Out of all the terms aspiring chefs will use and hear in culinary school, mise en place be the most popular. According to many former culinary arts students, the term mise en place was used constantly. Instructors will not only drill into you the importance of getting organized and having everything ready to go, but they will scrupulously check over your preparatory work.

What Comprises the Mise en Place?

In a restaurant, mise en place refers to everything that is done to make service as efficient as possible. It encompasses everything involved in "getting ready" and also keeping things in order as service goes on. The more common term side work is the same thing as mise en place and some line cooks use the word meez, for short. You also might hear chefs talk about "doing the mise en place."

Having all your tools in place, having and keeping your station clean, and putting tools, pans, and other equipment back into their proper place after using them are all part of mise en place. But also, preparing stocks, sauces, or having breadings or batters ready, are mise en place. Other examples are:

  • cutting and trimming meat, poultry, or fish
  • washing and preparing vegetables (trimming, chopping, dicing)
  • preparing the kitchen for the next shift (which may not be the same people)

cook working with his mise en place in professional kitchen

An example of mise en place in a professional kitchen.
Image by Charles Haynes via FlickrImage Credit

Although most of us don't bother with mise en place when cooking for a couple of people at home, being as prepared as possible before you begin cooking can help you deliver a much better dish. Instead of being distracted and walking back and forth across the kitchen grabbing ingredients from the fridge or cupboard, or, even worse, looking for a missing knife or spoon, you can concentrate only on what is going on inside the pan. The timing of a dish is much easier if you do not have to stop to cut up vegetables or trim meat. A great example of a dish that makes proper mise en place essential is rissoto. To make a great rissoto, you have to continually add small amounts of stock to arborio rice and stir almost constantly. If you do not have all your components in place before starting your risotto, it can be a harrowing experience, since there is a very fine line between OK risotto and excellent risotto.

Cleaning up as you cook, also an essential part of mise en place, can help your cooking be more efficient, as well. Most of us don't have unlimited room on your kitchen counters, so when food scraps or dirty used equipment piles up it can make us disorganized and slow us down.

In How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food, Mark Bittman challenges what he called the "myth of mise en place," saying that it is impractical in a home kitchen:

Doing all the prep ahead of time often leaves you twiddling your thumbs, waiting for food to cook.

While it is true that having everything prepped in advance is neither practical nor necessary for a home cook who isn't cooking multiple dishes as in a restaurant, there is no reason not to plan ahead and have certain essential components prepped, to eliminate missteps or distractions while cooking. Although completely prepping in advance will probably not save you time, there are few home cooks who would really end up "twiddling their thumbs" because they were over-prepared.

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