Can I share a recent epiphany?
I love to cook, and I especially love to try new recipes. And I'm blessed with family that is usually pretty willing to go on any culinary adventure I take them on, which - let's be honest – is pretty awesome.
I can be sort of a ditz in the kitchen, though. I've been known to start recipes without making sure I have all of the ingredients on hand. Sometimes, I jump into a recipe without knowing exactly where it's going, how long it's going to take or what order I'm going to need things in. And it's not unheard of for me to have part of a meal burning cooking too quickly in the pan while I'm frantically chopping up the next ingredient.
Enter the concept of mis en place.
Fancy French name for such a simple translation: to put in place.
Quite simply, it means having all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you get started.
I know. Obvious, right?
I mean, I've been watching Food Network forever and PBS cooking shows on Saturday afternoons for years before that. Those little bowls of chopped ingredients tv chefs are always tossing in their mixing bowls or saute pans – mis en place. Setting everything out by the stove or on the counter first – mis en place. In restaurants, chef would never be able to get meals out in a timely manner without having completed their mis en place earlier in the day. At home, I'm finding it can mean the difference between almost burnt okay and perfectly prepared delicious.
I know I read the term in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential years ago, but it didn't really strike me until I read the sidebar on it in Gluten Free Girl and The Chef. The description of Shauna frantically running back and forth between the refrigerator, stove and cutting board…it hit a little too close to home.
It means reading the recipe, gathering all of the ingredients, and doing the prep work. Chopping carrots, dicing onions, butterflying chicken breasts…putting everything into it's own bowl if necessary or combining them when you can. You can do the work earlier in the day and maybe sometimes for a few days at a time (although I always think freshest always tastes best). It takes so much of the stress out of the actual act of cooking or baking, and makes complicated recipes so much simpler.
The one downfall I've discovered about really working the mis en place? It makes for a few more dishes…but trading a few extra bowls to wash for an easier cooking experience – yep, totally worth it especially as we head into that holiday baking and big meal season!