Can mise en place make your cooking more organized?

When cooking from a recipe, I usually:

  1. Read through the entire recipe to get a comprehensive idea of what I’ll be doing.
  2. Read through the recipe again, this time taking notes on the recipe that are helpful to me during the cooking process.
  3. Set out all of the equipment I’ll need to complete the recipe.
  4. Measure, chop, mince, etc. anything that has to be done at a very specific time during the cooking process. (If I’m making soup, I’ll chop all my vegetables first, but I tend to just measure and grab ingredients out of the refrigerator and pantry as I go.)
  5. Heat the stove or oven, if applicable.
  6. Cook.

You’ll notice that I don’t typically measure out all of my ingredients or get them out of the cupboard before starting the cooking process. This step, referred to as mise en place, has always seemed to me to be unnecessary. I also think measuring things ahead of time dirties a ridiculous number of bowls. Or, rather, I thought it was ridiculous until reading Michael Ruhlman‘s newest cookbook Twenty.

Before explaining what Ruhlman said to change my mind (or at least think mise en place less ridiculous), let me first give you some of his credentials. He co-wrote Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook, been a judge on Iron Chef America, studied at The Culinary Institute of America, wrote Ratio (one of the most useful cookbooks ever written, in my opinion), and has also written books with chefs Eric Ripert, Michael Symon, and Anthony Bourdain. If you like to cook, Ruhlman’s books are valuable companions in the kitchen.

Now that I have my praises for Ruhlman out of my system, let me share with you what he wrote that helped to change my mind about mise en place. From pages 13 and 14 in Twenty:

There are all kinds of home cooks — people who cook to unwind; people who cook as a hobby; people who cook because they want to feed their family healthful, tasty, economical meals; and people who cook because it’s the least objectionable option in fulfilling a daily need. Regardless of what kind of cook you are, the most basic rules apply. First and foremost is that cooking is easier, faster, more efficient, more successful, and more fun when you think first, when you prepare and organize, when you set up your mise en place.

This is not an additional step — it’s simply doing all that you would do throughout the cooking anyway. You’re just doing it ahead of time, spending less time between cupboard and counter, refrigerator and stove. Be sure your counter or work area is completely clear. Go to the refrigerator, pull everything you’re going to need, and set it out. Go to the cupboard, and pull everything there you’ll need. Gather your tools beside your cutting board, set the pans you’ll need on the stove, and get the oven hot if you’re using it. Think about the sequence of your actions. And then being to work, and as you work while you’re doing one thing, think about what you’ll be doing next and next after that.

The past few meals I’ve made, I’ve tried mise en place (Ruhlman defines it as “organize and prepare,” even though it’s exact translated meaning is “put in place”). I’m not convinced it’s something I’ll do in the future for everything I make, especially the favorite recipes I know by heart and could make while wearing a blindfold. However, for all new and tricky recipes, I’m giving it a whirl. Being organized and prepared has served me well in so many other aspects of my life, it’s likely to benefit me in the kitchen.

What are your thoughts on mise en place as a way to help you be more organized in the kitchen? If you thought it was a waste of time, like I did, do Ruhlman’s words change your mind at all? Or, have you been a loyal mise en place preparation guru your entire cooking life? I’m interested in reading people’s thoughts on this cooking habit.

81 Comments for “Can mise en place make your cooking more organized?”

  1. posted by Sara {House Bella} on

    I definitely benefit from mise en place, especially for complicated recipes. Too often I have found myself in the spot of saying “Crap, I need onions, NOW, and I still need to stir the pot!” Plus, I just find it makes cooking more enjoyable. I experience it more, if you will, when I can be fully present in the actual act of cooking.

  2. posted by Jen on

    I usually don’t pre-measure ingredients, since it does dirty up an unnecessary number of dishes, as you mention. But I do make a point of taking everything out ahead of time (and pre-chopping most of the time, as you do). I have run into the problem one too many times of being in the middle of making something and finding out halfway through that I need 4 eggs but I only have 2 in the house. It also makes things go a little faster while cooking, especially in recipes where things happen pretty quickly and I don’t want to take the time to hunt down ingredients while a sauce boils over.

    I bought Ratio but haven’t read it yet (next on the list). Very interested in reading Twenty also, thanks for the tip!

  3. posted by Anita on

    My cooking style is a bit “middle of the road”. My steps:

    1. Read the recipe and take out all necessary ingredients and pots/pans that I’ll need.
    2. Read the recipe again and figure out what I need to prep ahead of time (e.g. anything that’s time-sensitive, mainly).
    3. Prep and measure as needed. I mostly measure and prep things I’ll need to add quickly or while stirring a pot; otherwise, if I have time, I’ll measure as I go. I also never measure out spices or anything else I can eye. I’m fairly certain I can eye a half-teaspoon of nutmeg or salt or parsley, without needing 3 pre-measured half-teaspoons. And even if that fails, a taste test can always fix it :)
    4. Cook.

    Mise en place is enormously helpful for chefs who need to create the same dish consistently and in record time, but for home cooks I don’t think it’s as vital a step, and it comes down to personal preference.

  4. posted by Nancy on

    Perhaps true mise en place is beyond most home cooks who lack a team of dishwashers. Unlike chefs, we probably don’t need each element in its own bowl. For easy clean-up, I lay my stir-fry veggies on sheets of wax paper.

  5. posted by Rondina on

    I do this when I am making a complicated dish, but I’ll try it for simpler dishes to see if it makes cooking more enjoyable. I see the number of dishes used as a minor problem unless you are short on dishes. The amount of counter space this requires may be more than I have.

  6. posted by Karyl on

    I love cooking this way. The only thing I don’t like is the added dishes but I still think it’s worth it. Loved this post – love your blog!

  7. posted by Carol on

    I do mise en place to some extent.

    I find that getting things out as I go is too difficult with most the the recipes I make because either something burns on the stove while I’m getting my next ingredient or I get halfway through the recipe only to discover I’m missing an ingredient that I thought I had. I don’t, however, measure everything out into individual little dishes the way they do on cooking shows. That seems like just too much to clean.

    Usually for me I just set everything I need out on the counter or get it out, measure what I need then put it away. Items that get added at the same time in a recipe are usually measured out into one small bowl. For example, if the recipe calls for 5 dry spices to be added at the same stage in cooking I may pre-measure them into just one bowl so that I can dump them all in at the same time while cooking. It also depends on the recipe itself. With meatloaf I can get away with getting stuff out as I go since everything is mixed in a bowl before cooking. Anything cooked on the stove usually requires items to be added at a faster pace so mise en place is a lifesaver.

  8. posted by Mackenzie on

    I do it when making something involved. I was kicking myself for not doing it on Sunday when I baked cookies and halfway through mixing discovered a lack of baking soda.

  9. posted by baker_bear on

    Hooray for Mise en place! :) I find that doing my Mise en place actually saves time. I get everything ready and things flow together seamlessly which definitely eliminates stress>

  10. posted by lafou on

    After learning Chinese cooking, I got in the habit of setting up small bowls with various ingredients ahead of time. And baking is so easy to screw up by leaving things out or not following the prescribed sequence.

    My big problem is the mass of pots, pans, etc. that takes me 3 times as long to clean up than it does to use them!

  11. posted by Jessica on

    I’m going to have to give this a try. I’ve always found cooking to be tedious at best and overwhelming at worst. And that’s probably because of the way I’m doing it.

    I don’t do mis en place, but I now realize that this is how recipes are written: all of the ingredients and quantities are listed, followed by the steps. I always found it incredibly confusing to read a step, and then have to look back up through the ingredient list to figure out how much of an item is needed for that step.

    It makes much more sense to have all the ingredients prepared and ready to go, then follow the steps and add the prepared ingredients accordingly. I like the tips about having the dishwasher empty and a sink of hot soapy water ready as well.

  12. posted by Roxanne on

    I’m going to repeat what some others have said: I’ve always cooked and baked this way because it’s just my nature to be organized. I don’t necessarily put each ingredient in a bowl, though I’m thinking of getting prep bowls to do so–I don’t mind the extra dirty dishes if it makes cooking easier.

    When I first started cooking, mise en place was just something I picked up on, though I wasn’t aware it had a name at the time. There were times I was in such a rush to get dinner made that I started one step of the recipe before checking to make sure I had all of the ingredients and supplies. It’s terribly frustrating to realize you’re out of something when it’s too late to stop!

  13. posted by Barb @ 1SentenceDiary on

    My DH and I have an ongoing diagreement about this. His way is to get everything entirely set up, then cook while cleaning along the way. My perspective is that his method just plain TAKES LONGER. Yes, it’s often true that he’s all done and the food is just in the oven, but nonetheless, the meal is not ready to eat. I think that all those years of coming home from work with hungry kids (and hungry myself, too) has always made me focus on how long it will be until the food is ready to eat.

    So yes, maybe it would be more “enjoyable” if I took the time to prep everything first, but seriously, who has that kind of time?

    That said, I think the hardest part of cooking is having all the pieces of the meal ready at the same time. So I will read the various recipes and make a general plan as to when each item should start cooking. I often pull out the ingredients in advance, just for convenience, but am not fanatical about it.

    One thing I really don’t understand is many of the commenters above who say that for baking, they prep by measuring the dry ingredients into one bowl and the wet ingredients into another bowl. How is that any different from — you know — actually following the recipe?

  14. posted by Ann KB on

    I guess I already do this…just didn’t know there was a name for it. I always get all ingredients, pans, and utensils out on the counter before starting and its a much easier process this way. I also try to wash any dishes while the meal is cooking so I don’t have to worry about it at the end of the meal.

  15. posted by Barb @ 1SentenceDiary on

    Also, I just had to laugh at Beverly’s comment above to “start with clean, empty countertops and and empty dishwasher.” Of course, I do understand that she meant that as a general guideline only. But the idea that I should have to first empty the dishwasher before I can even start cooking — not gonna happen when I have hungry kids to feed.

    Generally, on a weeknight:
    — double check recipe for the details
    — pull out most ingredients
    — chop, cook, baste, etc.
    — when there’s downtime (e.g. while meal is simmering or broiling or whatever), empty dishwasher and wash dishes
    — kids set table
    — we eat!

    If the dishwasher didn’t get emptied or the dishes didn’t all get cleaned, that can happen after the meal as well.

    Then, evening snack and morning breakfast dishes get added to the dishwasher in the morning, and we run the dishwasher. Repeat.

  16. posted by Jennifer on

    A tip to add – this might seem so small, but I have found keeping a towel on my shoulder to wipe my fingers on saves me so much time over going to the sink. Plus it saves the skin underneath my wedding rings from too many washings!

  17. posted by Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home on

    I do that! I don’t measure everything ahead of time though. If I forget something, I get one of my kids to bring it to me!

  18. posted by Keri on

    I am a fan of laid-back (or lazy-ass) cooking. I’ve learned, through experience, that there are some things that need to be exact (the measurement of red pepper), and some things that don’t (the amount of onions used).

    When I am cooking from a recipe, I try to make only on trip to the fridge, pantry or spice rack, and I try to get out everything I will need at one time. But pre-measuring spices into another bowl? Are you kidding? I have to wash all of our dishes by hand!

    Which is, incidently, why I never sear meat. That seems like a waste of a clean dish to me. All of my meat goes on to be cooked in a roasting pan or crockpot, so it stews in its own juices anyways. And I have NEVER served dry or flavorless meat, so obviously it is not a necessity (indeed, I’ve never noticed it to contribute anything to the flavor).

    Likewise I don’t cook something, put it aside, cook something else, then put everything together to re-heat. All you have to do is cook in order of cooking time.

    Meat should always be cooked first, since it needs to be on the heat the longest time. Cook it until it’s barely pink in the middle. Large vegetables–like broccoli–and frozen veggies go in next (make sure to use a lid to get them to cook faster and more thoroughly). Tough fresh veggies–like bell peppers and celery–go in next, followed by softer veggies. Onions, being the softest, quickest to cook, go in last. Spices go in when you start to develop a sauce.

    And this makes pre-cutting and pre-measuing unnessary. Put your pan and oil on to heat while you cut up the meat. Toss the meat in the pan and clean your cutting board and start in on the tough veggies. By the time you’re done cutting them, the meat should be cooked enough. If you’re making a sauce with the addition of water or wine, add it and the spices, then the veggies. Then start cutting the next veggies. By the time you’re done chopping, it will be time to put them in the pan. And so on until everything’s in the pan. Then you start tasting it and adding spices, as necessary. When it tastes right and everything is hot, it’s ready to serve, or you can put it on the lowest setting to stay warm until the family can be gathered.

    Trust me, this is pretty foolproof cooking. Do one thing at a time, one step right after another. Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated; it doesn’t even have to be exacting, unless you’re entering some sort of cooking contest.

    This is cooking as art, not science.

  19. posted by Charlotte on

    I could see mise en place being useful for baking, particularly as I’m prone to making errors when I bake, but that’s about it, really.

    When I cook, I usually multitask, e.g., chop veggies while the onions are sauteing, get spices out of the pantry when veggies are sauteing, begin cleaning up and putting things away as they are not used/dirtied. I think my method is a better use of time and resources, personally.

  20. posted by Allison on

    I have a work space is at an absolute premium in my kitchen (about two usable feet of counter space) putting every tool and pre-measured ingredient out on my workspace would mean no workspace to work on. I work in stages, cleaning (or at least piling dirty items in the sink) and prepping as I go.

    I’m not sure if I would do it if I had the space, I can see how it would make everything very efficient, but except for baking, where I have learned the hard way about the value of precisions, I’m more of a figure it out as I go kind of cook, than a precisely plan to execute a complicated recipe kind of cook.

  21. posted by Melissa Ward on

    One of the things I do and have been doing for decades is teaching healthy organic cooking classes, both private and public, for decades. While I’m self taught, and never attended a cooking academy, I had a restaurant at age eighteen, and discovered on my own that it is the way to go. When I cook and teach cooking to others, I insist on organizing in the order that Michael Ruhlman suggests.

    It lends to developing a better cooking “brain” and to self teaching. If you’ve ever painted a room, you know that the prep is most of the work, and prep done right and thoroughly lends itself to a beautifully (and easily) painted room. While it may seem unnecessary, I wouldn’t go without my little bowls that I use for mise in place. They next inside each other in the cabinet in my small apartment kitchen. I enjoy using vintage bowls, so it makes the process even more pleasurable. Oftentimes the ingredients are on the dry side, so just a swipe with a dishcloth instead of washing them will do.

    The first thing I do when teaching someone in their own kitchen is to have them clear the countertops. I frequently find that people use their kitchen countertops for everything and anything not related to food preparation. This prevents one from cooking, or wanting to cook. It is a blockade, so clear them and keep them clear and clean, even of appliances you don’t use everyday. Have cutting boards at the ready and set up two, so you can be even more efficient. Systems do work well for cooking, and mise en place is the way to go for me, and for all of the professional chefs I know, even when they are cooking at home, or when we get together for casual/fun projects.

  22. posted by Haley on

    Mise en place is important for me since I can get a little distracted while cooking. This helps me from having to remove something from the stove only to put it back when I am ready. I also measure all the dry ingredients first so I can use the same measuring cups/spoons/bowls for the wet later. The only con is my kitchen is tiny and I have to clever with placement/stacking things.

  23. posted by Kaylee on

    Huh. I didn’t realize this was a technique. It’s just the way I cook. Get everything out, chop whatever needs it, and go. I only measure ingredients ahead for complex or new recipes.

  24. posted by diane on

    before i became a culinary student i never heard of mise en place, but now that i’m a student, i wouldn’t cook without it. i’ve found that it’s much for efficient and that i don’t have to keep looking at the recipe while i cook bc i just grab the bowl of the ingredient i need and just focus on cooking instead of the measuring. it’s less trouble to clean up a few small bowls (ramekins are great) than to use up time reading and measuring. we should always check to make sure we have all our ingredients anyway, so why not prep them all before you cook. it also prevents me from mis-measuring by focusing on one task at a time. in a large professional kitchen, less time and energy is used running around gathering ingredients and tools. it’s a great concept, no matter what it’s called.

    also, if you have a list of spices that will be added at the same time, just put them all in the same bowl for less cleaning. easy.

  25. posted by Licia on

    I like to cook with kids and if we don’t do a mise en place (or at least get out all the ingredients beforehand), the kids spend way too much time dancing around the kitchen looking for something and forgetting what they’re looking for.
    It really helps too, when I’m cooking at someone else’s house with their kids and don’t know where everything is right away.
    I also have the kids do a mise en place before they start their homework.

  26. posted by Barbi on

    Ellen,

    Thanks for posting this! It comes at the right time for me. I love to cook but I am always disorganized and my meat tends to get done before everything else. I was recently rethinking my cooking strategy (or lack of it) and hoping to come up with a solid plan, which you have posted!

    Although I love to cook, the preplanning does not come naturally for me in any area of my life, so cooking was just another messy ordeal.

    So two things:
    1) I will happily follow Ruhlman’s tips.
    2) Because of your “Unclutterer” blog, I now have much less in life that I do have to preplan for :)

    Cheers,
    ~Barbi

  27. posted by Paula on

    That’s why I love Jamie Oliver’s recipes: his recipes don’t say “onions, carrots” but “onions, chopped” and “carrots, sliced”

  28. posted by Hanna on

    I had no idea that this method had a name or was a “method”. I just assumed everyone cooked like this, I’d never even thought about something so obvious would have to be tought… or was in any way revolutionary.. or.. . This is an eyeopener for me. Weird. I’m a really messy person in all other areas of my life, but this is just second nature.

  29. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    For me it depends on the dish.

    Pasta sauce is one where chopping as one goes means that the various ingredients end up going in at the right time (provided you chop the ‘hard’ veges first) a bit like Keri said. Also, as my husband is almost vegan, our base is lentils rather than mince so the timing works well for that.

    For risotto though I’d chop everything first as, personally, I can’t stir constantly and chop at the same time.

    For baking I like to get out all the ingredients first even if I don’t measure them all (I can usually eyeball whether I have enough for the dish) – there’s nothing like starting and then finding that one doesn’t have enough flour / oil / sugar / other crucial ingredient to finish.

    Re: Paula’s comment about Jamie Oliver’s recipes saying things like ‘carrots, sliced’, I write my recipes in a similar way. I also make it easy to see what the ingredients are by writing things like “self-raising flour – 1 cup” rather than “1 cup self-raising flour”.

    Additionally, I tend to either group all my dry ingredients separately from all my wet ingredients (all my dry ingredients are likely to be in the pantry so it means I visit the pantry less often to retrieve all the ingredients) or write them in order of their addition to the dish. For baking this is generally one and the same – dry things are mixed first and then the wet ones are added. Within each group I write them in order of addition if possible.

  30. posted by Mark.Knox on

    Mise en place is a concept I took from my position as a sous chef in a kitchen in my twenties on to the corporate workplace. I actually was asked once to give a presentation to our division on how I stayed organized and I used “mise en place” not only as an example of how I keep everything I need in a certain place and within easy reach (physically and mentally) but I also talked about how you always have to protect your personal “mise” from overzealous micro-managers. :)
    Mise en place is a concept that can be at least figuratively applied to any task you want to do well. I guess that’s obvious from the overwhelming number of comments that support the idea. Great post (as always). Thank you.

  31. posted by TootsNYC on

    Whisperpotpie wrote:
    “Having a good set of prep bowls is key.”

    This is so true! And I really started doing this when I got a set that worked. Oddly enough, they’re just these little metal bowls from the local dollar store; they hold about 2 cups, which means I can pile stuff high, or not worry about.

    To me the most compelling reason for a mise en place is that you can focus on the food as it cooks, and tell what’s going on in the pan, rather than chopping, measuring, etc.

    I’ve found it tremendously restful.

    And in baking, it actually makes the mixing process seem shorter. It probably isn’t, but it feels that way.

    If ever I double a recipe, I get really strict about using a mise en place. To prevent errors. (though that chocolate cake is one of my favorite stories)

    It’s also restful because I put the containers back right after I’ve measured. If I don’t measure ahead, then I feel like I don’t have time to ALSO put the container away.

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