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"Mise en place" helps you cook like a pro

Good recipes are written in the order for completing each step, with careful attention paid to timing. Follow the directions, you'll make a great dish.

Culinary success can be as easy as knowing how to read — and follow — directions. But there is a method used by pros and amateurs that further reduces cooking anxiety, helps ensure your dish comes out cooked perfectly and saves time in the kitchen: make a mise en place.

"Mise en place" (pronounced "meez-en-plahs") is a French phrase that literally means "put in place." In the culinary world it describes the actual grouping of a recipe's ingredients that have been prepped, pre-measured and organized accordingly to when they should be added to the recipe.

Restaurant cooks have long used mise en place to keep organized in a busy kitchen. For home cooks, the importance is a little different: mise en place helps reduce mistakes caused by real life — a ringing phone, a needy pet, a nosey neighbor.

If it seems like prepping and organizing ahead of time is more work, here's why it could save your sanity:

  • A mise en place lets you control your cooking process. Starting and stopping any activity invites error but washing, chopping and prepping ingredients at once saves you from overcooking chicken while you waste time chopping a garnish or preparing the recipe's next step.
  • Setting up a mise en place before you begin lets you know if you're out of something you need and gives you the chance to make a substitution or alter your plans.
  • If you're interrupted, you don't have to remember if you added a certain ingredient: if it's still in the small bowl where you put it, you haven't; if the bowl is empty, you have.

Making Your Mise En Place

Making a mise en place is as easy as reading the recipe and prepping each ingredient accordingly. It's about being organized, and having a few key tools at the ready to make your cooking experience smoother and more enjoyable. Here are some tricks:

  • Put prepped, measured ingredients into containers of your choice. Small ramekins or "pinch" bowls available online and in kitchen stores work well, but so do small plates and even wax paper or aluminum foil cut into squares.
  • Always prep vegetables first and protein last. This will keep your cutting board sanitary until the end. Better yet, buy a few different colored boards and dedicate one for protein and one for produce.
  • If your recipe calls for produce, wash it all at once at the beginning of your prep, paying special attention to greens being thoroughly grit-less and rid of excess water.
  • Dampen a paper towel and place it beneath your cutting board to ensure it doesn't slip on your counter. The firm grip will help you chop more efficiently and safely.

Once the pre-thinking, pre-prepping process of making a mise en place becomes routine, you'll wonder why you didn't cook smarter, sooner.