The Next Step: Mise en Place

A dear friend of mine (who says I am no longer allowed to us him as an example in my blog) told me he felt inspired by my journey to learn to cook and become healthy. To get started, he invited me to dinner. He wanted to make Chicken Parmesan, but that’s a breaded dish (not as healthy). We opted for chicken picatta, which is dredged but not breaded. He surprised me by adding asparagus to the menu. I don’t usually recommend starting with double-tasking, but I figured he had a plan.
 
I love my friend dearly, but I haven’t seen such a disaster in the kitchen since my first attempt at spaghetti carbonara. He had bought chicken thighs instead of breasts, swapped stock for wine, and didn’t consult his recipe at all! Many people encourage experimentation, but beginners should start with instructions. There is a difference between simple substitutions and fundamentally changing a recipe. The chicken thighs looked cooked on the outside, but were completely raw on the inside. He put the chicken back in twice and it was still raw! Somehow he managed to cook the asparagus, so we essentially had wine and asparagus for dinner. It didn’t matter. I was happy to cook with my friend and enjoy some food, wine, and good company.

He had a simple problem – his mise en place was very poor. What the heck is mise en place? It’s a French phrase meaning “everything in it’s place.” Once you’ve got your recipe, you need to organize your kitchen and ingredients before you start cooking. This will keep your kitchen clean and prevent any panicking or obvious blunders. You’ve probably read my first lesson in cooking: How to Read a Recipe. The next step is your mise en place!

As an example, I’ll be using pictures from my post Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce.

1. Select and read your recipe.

2. Make sure you have all of the tools, dishes, and equipment you will need.

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Remember when I forgot my zester? That’s bad mise en place!

In some cases, you might be able to get away with substitutions. You may not necessarily need a stand mixer even if the recipe calls for one. The size of dishes and cookware can be important to all for proper cooking.

There’s no point making a dish when you don’t have everything you need. It makes it harder for you and more often than not, it won’t work out. Save the less obvious substitutions and sleight-of-hands for when you’re more experienced.

3. Do an inventory of your kitchen for the ingredients you already have. Shop for the ones you don’t.

I am adamant; it is important to stick to your recipe until you have more experience cooking. You might be able to get away with using sea salt instead of kosher salt, but the recipe was written that way for a reason. Make sure you don’t go shopping for things you already have. Then buy what you need as instructed in your recipe.

4. Defrost your meat!

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Save yourself the trouble of warming meat in the microwave or cooking half-frozen meat.

I usually put my portioned meat into a container and let it sit in the fridge over night. If it’s still frozen, I let it sit at room temperature for an hour or two.

5. Before setting up, make sure your kitchen is relatively clean.

Remove things from your counter tops and stove area. I store pans in my oven so I need to pull them out before I pre-heat my oven. You’ll want to work in a clean, uncluttered space.

6. Take out everything you need.

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All the ingredients are out. I won’t forget anything if it’s right in front of me.

Read your recipe. Take out all of the ingredients and equipment you’ll need. This always helps me figure out if I’ve missed anything. For example, the other day when I was making cupcakes, I realized I’d bought frosting, but forgotten cupcake liners!

7. Wash your vegetables.

This is a step I often forget. Produce should be thoroughly washed before being used. You can pay them dry with paper towels if you want.

8. Open cans and packages.

This is so that you can measure your ingredients. You don’t want to be measuring and prepping as you go. If you need a whole can of an ingredient, you won’t be fighting with the can opener when you should be mixing it into your food.

9. Chop, slice, and dice.

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Your veggies have been washed, so now they need to be cut accordingly. Mince garlic, slice onions, cut tomatoes. I like to separate them into bowls so they’re easy to pour into my food.

10. Measure out what you can.

I have little glass bowls that I like to put ingredients in for easy access. Eggs and yolks or whites, salt and other spices, vanilla, etc.

11. Double check. Is everything in it’s place?

Are your pans on the stove? Do you have all your ingredients? Are they all properly prepped?

12. GET COOKING!

It sounds a lot more complicated when you write it out step-by-step like this, but the key points are to follow your recipe and set yourself up for success. If you stay organized and prepare everything in advance, you’ll be less likely to forget things or make big mistakes.

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