Mis en Place Is Key to Cooking Like a Pro—Here's How to Master This Meal Prep Technique

Prepping ingredients and assembling tools prior to cooking can help keep you organized and save time in the kitchen.

One of the first things culinary school curriculums cover is preparation and time management—two things that are essential to the French code of mise en place. Loosely translated, mise en place means to "put in place" or "setup." It's a system that legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier developed in the mid-19th century, and ever since, chefs have used it to keep their workstations tight and organized.

How does mise en place translate to home cooking? We reached out to chefs and other cooking experts and discovered that some embrace the act of mise daily, while others reserve it for specific situations. All agree that mise en place boils down to three elemental steps that can help build any cook's kitchen confidence.

Why You Should Use Mis en Place

According to Gesine Bullock-Prado, pastry chef, baking instructor, and author My Vermont Table: Recipes for All (Six) Seasons, the practice of mise en place is the first step in any successful baking or cooking endeavor. She finds that prepping ingredients and assembling tools prior to cooking is a timesaver, plus it allows her to relax into the right head space. "I always say that the first ingredient in baking (and cooking) is patience, and that process of gathering and measuring forces you to slow down and consider the elements of the recipe," she says.

When to Use

Sisters Cammie Kim Lin and Leah Su Quiroga, co-authors of (Serious) New Cook: Recipes, Tips, and Techniques, an instructional resource for budding cooks, say that mise en place has many merits, but they don't use it for every meal they make. "If you're trying a recipe for the first time, or you're cooking something very complicated, mise en place is a good way to help you work methodically and carefully through a recipe," says Lin, who's also a food writer and professor at New York University.

Quiroga, a former head chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., says she doesn't usually set up a mise en place for routine family dinners, but there are exceptions. "If it's a dish where you need to be moving quickly, like a stir-fry, or you just want your cooking process to run more smoothly (like if you know you're going to need to simultaneously entertain and chat with guests) then prepping things ahead of time can help immensely," she says. Dinner parties, in other words, are perfect mise en place terrain.

prepped vegetables in bowls

Three Basic Steps for Mis en Place

Ready to get organized before you start cooking? Here's how to mis en place in three simple steps.

1. Read the Recipe

If you do nothing else in the kitchen, make sure to read the recipe from start to finish before you start cooking. No one wants to be stuck frantically grating cheese that you didn't have ready—or worse, discover at the last minute that you don't have enough cheese.

A read-through can also be the catalyst for turning lemons into lemonade. "The other wonderful thing about mise en place is that if you find yourself missing an ingredient in a recipe, instead of panicking because you're mid-cook or -bake, you can come up with some incredibly creative alternatives," says Bullock-Prado.

What's more, every recipe is different. Some recipes remind you to bring pasta water to a boil; others simply say to 'cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente.' A recipe may note that an ingredient is to be divided, meaning the ingredient is used in two different places within the recipe. Knowing when and how to divvy up the ingredient increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.

2. Prep Ingredients and Collect Tools

Next, gather your ingredients and equipment. Quiroga prefers to set up ingredients in order of use. Bullock-Prado also suggests keeping tools in an accessible place and putting away that canister of flour or sugar once measured or weighed.

While your oven is preheating or your stock is simmering, prep the rest of your ingredients. This can include tasks like chopping parsley, opening cans of beans or tomatoes, and measuring oil and vinegar.

And prepping may also entail foresight like taking butter and eggs out of the refrigerator well in advance of cookie production. The temperature of ingredients is as critical as the measurement in baking, says Bullock-Prado.

3. Clean as You Go

Perhaps most importantly, it's crucial to clean as you go. "Otherwise, you will have a big mess in the end, which is no fun," says Quiroga. "Ideally, all of your prep pots and pans and cookware are washed before your meal is served."

Lin also suggests keeping a bowl for scraps handy on the countertop. Onion skins, egg shells, and the like go into the bowl—once full, these scraps can either be composted or discarded. Finally, always keep a dish towel handy for quick wipe-downs. Nothing makes getting dinner on the table more overwhelming than a dirty workspace.

"Cleaning as you go creates a more joyful experience," says Bullock-Prado. "If you slow down and clean as you go, you'll find yourself enjoying the process so much more."

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