Bake

Why You Should Work From a Mise en Place—But Not Always!

April 11, 2016

TV chefs always appear surrounded by their mise en place—all of the ingredients for a dish measured and set out in bowls so all they have to do is add them at the right time.

Mise en place is a time-honored and usually essential ritual for professionals. It saves time by allowing actions to take place in a single continuous motion, which may also be essential for the success of the dish. Restaurants could not survive a busy service without mise en place; production kitchens could not run efficiently without it, either.

Pastry chefs are particularly adamant about the mise. Having everything ready to go means that the chef can move from one step to the next without hesitation, like a dance. Stopping the action in a complicated recipe can spell disaster—like a dancer tripping. Unanticipated interruptions may cause delicate batters to deflate, chocolate to congeal, and custards to curdle. Even at home, mise en place means you don’t have to stop in the middle of a recipe to search the sandbox or bathtub for a “toy” borrowed from the kitchen or to make an unanticipated run to the grocery store.

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I’m not in a professional kitchen any more. But I still rely on my mise. It keeps me organized and focused and reminds me when I’ve run out of an ingredient. It makes me calm when I am stressed, and it’s pleasant when I’m already relaxed. When I’m dead-tired but know I have to bake, I’ll decide to “just do the mise” and bake later. As often as not, just doing the mise makes the actual mixing and baking seem easy—like a second wind— so I just carry on. When I have a huge morning of baking ahead, I do all the mise the night before. Then I can hit the ground running in the morning.

Photo by James Ransom

But there are exceptions to my mise rule: If I know my recipe like the back of my hand, I might, for example, start melting the chocolate while I get the other ingredients together and the pan prepared.

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Top Comment:
“I'll chop up the next ingredients, etc. and line them up ready for action. It is a good habit and makes the cooking enjoyable, even on a hectic weeknight. I'll even try to keep cleaning up, loading (or unloading) dishes, etc. during any downtime (using that term very lightly!). Great article.”
— Kerry
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There are many more exceptions in savory cooking at home, too. Unless a recipe requires a fast action sequence in a sauté pan or wok—once the stir-fry is started, there’s no time to stop, search, measure or chop— you might save time by skipping the mise.

Soups and stews and braises often require a long list of ingredients chopped and added to the pan in sequence. These recipes are more efficiently done by cooking and prepping simultaneously. First be sure you have all of the ingredients on hand and a good overview of the action and timing. Then, for example, start sweating the onions immediately and use the time it takes them to soften to measure and chop the next set of vegetables that go into the pot. Continue to stay a step ahead with your prep.

My favorite soupe au pistou would surely require at least 30 minutes of vegetable washing and chopping beforehand—but if I start the onions immediately, all of the rest of the prep can be done along the way.

Common sense, right?

When do you make sure to mise (and when do you prefer to prep as you go)? Tell us in the comments below!

7 Comments

Lynn E. June 4, 2016
Muse is not just for the kitchen. It's invaluable for any project. I use it at my office job all the time. My fewyears in cooking and pastry honed my organizational skills and attention to detail.<br /><br />
 
cookinalong June 4, 2016
I never bother with mise for bread baking unless I'm trying something new. And since so many bread recipes call for things like "3 to 4 cups" of flour, it doesn't make sense to measure out and then either have to go get more or go put some back! But for a stir fry, I ALWAYS do it, and I go a little anal retentive step extra and line things up in the order I'm going to use them. Too nerve wracking otherwise. Lots of beginner cooks get obsessed with copying what they see TV chefs doing without realizing why they do things that way. Sometimes it just looks impressive on camera! More often it just means they're lucky enough to have a prep cook! Not a luxury most home cooks have.
 
Nancy January 21, 2018
Yes, agree...especially about bread making. One thing I do, to accommodate the variable amounts of flour needed, is set aside some extra with a clean scoop so I don't have to open my flour again with hands full of half-kneaded wet dough.<br />The occasions when I always use mise-en-place is when learning a new recipe or technique.
 
Laura415 June 3, 2016
Good article. I definitely use the tip about setting up my baking mise the night before. It makes it easy to just start baking early in the morning right when I get up while coffee is brewing. Makes the cooking go faster and more enjoyably.
 
bookjunky April 11, 2016
Makes excellent sense. But I think most home cooking and baking (think cookies, breads, and butter cakes) is not so time sensitive as to require mise. I typically gather the ingredients ahead of time, and just measure as I go. Fewer dishes, too.
 
Catherine April 11, 2016
Yes! I always read the recipe first (...almost always...) and try to identify places where it makes sense to prep and cook at the same time. Many times I can identify places where I can save extra bowls or measuring spoons by using weight measurements and pouring directly into the bowl. Saving time and clean up is important when cooking is your second shift. :)
 
Kerry April 11, 2016
I love this approach! I try to get all the ingredients out and while the first step is on the stove (i.e. browning meat, etc.) I'll chop up the next ingredients, etc. and line them up ready for action. It is a good habit and makes the cooking enjoyable, even on a hectic weeknight. I'll even try to keep cleaning up, loading (or unloading) dishes, etc. during any downtime (using that term very lightly!). Great article.