It is almost 5:30 p.m. My husband is due to come home any minute and I am working to get dinner on the table. I *try* to aim for a 5:30 dinnertime but it often doesn’t work out exactly that ideally! Nonetheless, I am on track tonight and having an early dinner is looking good right about now! It’s been a super busy week and whenever we aren’t eating too late, it frees up a lot of time in the evening for homework and for my husband and son to connect and spend time together without the impending rush of bedtime!
Suddenly, my husband calls. “Can you leave in 15 minutes to pick me up at that Urgent Care next to Pier One?” Huh? A colleague has slipped at the office and injured her knee. My husband has offered to drive her for an emergency X-ray, using her car so she can continue home and leaving his vehicle at work. Happy to help and retrieve my husband, I am still thrown about the timing of things. I was just about to start my risotto, which takes constant stirring and eye-watching for 30 minutes, as well as preheat the oven for asparagus. Since the chicken was just about to come out of the Crock Pot, I’m not inclined to save everything for tomorrow and head to the drive-through after picking him up. But because of making sure my mise en place was completed before starting to cook, I am able to still whip everything together upon returning home, saving us money by not succumbing to take out and not wasting my ingredients. We may not have had the early dinner I was aiming for, but things still came together as planned, albeit slightly later than intended.
Mise en...what now? Mise en place is a French expression that means put in place. Essentially, it means that prior to cooking, you have prepped all your ingredients as well as prepared your kitchen space with everything you need to execute the dish. It is the cornerstone of any professional kitchen, but it goes beyond just dicing up an onion and putting a pot on the stove – it is a total mindset that takes anticipation, organization, cleanliness, and efficiency into account, making the multitasking and choreography of cooking less of an overwhelming chore.
Professional chefs and culinary students spend hours working on their mise en place, because a busy kitchen could not survive without it. In order to execute proper dishes, it is absolutely crucial to be organized and prepped. However, a lot of home cooks seem to dive right into a recipe without getting set first, which just perpetuates the notion that homecooking is too hard, too complicated, and too time consuming. This is just not true! All you need is a little mise en place, and it will allow you to succeed in your own kitchen. And, it eliminates the stress that so many seem to feel when trying to cook at home. Best of all, it literally shaves time right off your busy weekday night. I cannot stress this enough, trust me!
Here are a few ways you can get started with making mise en place help you succeed in the kitchen:
1) Rethink the cooking process and think about how long everything will take. I like to think of my home cooking as a three step process: Mise en place, execution, and plating. Each step roughly takes about 15 minutes on average. Therefore, I like to start about 45 minutes before I want dinner on the table. That’s not terribly overwhelming, right? If you break it down into steps, you can ease your mind and feel better equipped to handle home cooking. I promise!
2) Read through your entire recipe(s) first and figure out what you need. Don’t start actually doing anything until you’ve thoroughly prepared for it.
3) Based on your recipes/what you’re making, gather up all your ingredients (yes, take out everything!), as well as every pot, pan, knife, and cooking gadget you will need.
4) Arrange all of these things based on the layout of your kitchen appliances and countertops – basically you want to create a workspace that is efficient. Figuring this out will come with time the more you cook at home. Have things close to the cooktops and give yourself enough room to cook, as well.
5) Set the table (or better yet, have your kids set the table) way in advance of dinnertime. Get everything ready. This can also include vitamins, butter, salt and pepper, and other items that can stay out while you’re cooking. This isn’t necessarily mise en place for a professional cook, but it sure is crucial for us home cooks!
6) Have your garbage can close to you! This is one of the most important parts of my own mise en place. Why walk back and forth to the garbage a ton of times when you can have it close by? This one step has saved me a ton of time!
7) Make sure your hand soap or dish soap is out and ready to use at the sink! You don’t want to struggle to find it when your hands are covered in raw chicken juice mid-cook!
8) Be sure to have clean dish towels handy, as well as paper towels. Also, wear an apron! All this helps keep your work space clean and organized, which is such an essential part of not only mise en place, but of execution and saving time.
9) Prep your ingredients. Chop the one onion the recipe calls for and put the rest of the bag away. Measure out the one cup of cream you’ll need and put the carton back in the fridge. Combine the components of the spicy rub that’s needed for the pork in a bowl and put the spices back in the pantry! Prep, prep, prep as much of the recipe as you can before actually cooking anything.
10) Double check. Is there anything else you can prepare or do in advance that will save you time when you’re actually baking/sautéing/grilling/frying? Do it now. Look over your recipes again. What else can you get out of the way step-wise?
Now you’re ready to “fire” dinner up. You’ll find that if you’ve dedicated proper time to the mise en place steps above, any recipe or meal suddenly seems so much more achievable. And – it really is! Whether we want to admit it or not, organization truly is the foundation to success, and I promise you with all my heart that if you remain committed to this philosophy in the kitchen, as well as with meal planning and grocery shopping, you will find that home cooking is 100% attainable and easier than you ever thought possible!