Become a more organized cook with modified mise en place

Years ago, when I was just a lad, I would watch my dad assemble birthday presents, grills, lawn mowers, and whatever else was not assembled at the factory for customers. He always followed the same organized procedure, which I still use today:

  1. Read the instructions all the way through before beginning.
  2. Lay out each part in a tidy row, ensuring that all required pieces are available.
  3. Identify and locate all of the necessary hardware and/or tools.
  4. Find little containers to hold tiny screws, bolts, and other bits that had the potential of getting lost.
  5. Lastly, make sure there’s enough room to spread out and work.

Only after satisfying all five steps would he begin working. It’s how I do things today, and how I recommend working on anything that has “some assembly required.”

I’ve taken this same approach and applied it in the kitchen, through a modified mise en place. When I’m getting ready to cook from a recipe, I:

  1. Read the recipe all the way through. Just like when you’re assembling a bicycle, you don’t want any surprises once you’ve started. Reading the recipe thoroughly before beginning will identify all the techniques, hardware, and ingredients you’re going to need.
  2. Find and prepare all of the hardware. This step is where you’ll find and locate what I think of as hardware: pots, pans, spatulas, whisks, measuring cups and spoons — all of the tools you’ll need during the preparation and cooking process. It’s no fun to read “stir constantly” or “with a slotted spoon” to find you don’t have a spatula or a spoon.
  3. Find all the ingredients. Locate everything your recipe calls for and get it ready.
  4. Practice mise en place. This is a French culinary term that means “putting in place.” It’s the practice of preparing and arranging ingredients that the chef will need to prepare the day’s meals. But you needn’t be a pro to benefit from this practice. If your recipe calls for 1 Tbsp of butter, a cup of milk, or a diced onion, get exactly those amounts ready before you begin. It’s so nice to not have to stop and measure something as you go. Just grab it and toss it in.
  5. Know where you’re going to place hot items. This step is easy to overlook and not usually included in mise en place, but extremely important. I remember my mother saying to me when I was first learning to cook, “Before you take that out of the oven, think: where are you going to put it?” Put out trivets if you like, clear a spot on the table or what-have-you. It’s all better than scanning the kitchen with a hot pot or dish in your hands.
  6. Can you clean as you go? I’ll admit that I’m not very good at this one. Professional kitchens have a dedicated dishwasher, but most home cooks are not that lucky. If you can clean as you go, do it. If not, designate a spot for dirty hardware ahead of time.
  7. What’s needed to set the table? When I cook for the family, the deal is the cook doesn’t have to set the table. I recommend you work this deal, too.

There you have it: kitchen lessons learned while watching my dad assemble bikes, grills, and more. I hope it makes you a more organized and successful cook.

11 Comments for “Become a more organized cook with modified mise en place”

  1. posted by T Young on

    As far as cleaning as you go…I have found it is extremely handy to have a large bowl filled with hot soapy water sitting in the sink. As I am done with utensils, mixer parts, etc. I just toss them in the bowl, by the time I am done cooking they are nearly soaked clean.

  2. posted by Chantel on

    I have started to use this when cooking as well. It creates more dishes for items that are pre-measured but after switching to all glass storage containers, clean up of the extra dishes only means more for the dishwasher and no extra work for me 🙂

  3. posted by Eric West | Rethinking the Dream on

    I don’t always do this when I cook, but I can see a real difference when I do. The process of cooking flows much better in the times where I have measured out all the ingredients ahead of time. It makes it kind of like those cooking segments you see on TV, everything is all laid out in tiny bowls, and all they have to do is mix everything together.

  4. posted by Pat on

    We go one step further in my house: the cook doesn’t have to do the clean up. One parent cooks, the other parent cleans, and the children help both parents.

  5. posted by Monique in TX on

    Weeeell…cooking like a TV chef this isn’t for everyone. My husband does, and makes a zillion little dishes for the dishwasher (me, if he cooks) to deal with. Me, I just line up the ingredients and measure as I go. Just as fast, and fewer dishes. Besides, with so many recipes, I’m altering on the fly, so if I pre-measured and put the containers away, I’d just be dragging them out again.

    Best kitchen tip: tile or otherwise heat-resistant countertops–all surfaces are heatproof!

  6. posted by Ms Hanson on

    For anyone limited in their range of motion (mine is respiratory), this Plan Ahead method makes it possible to prepare a feast single-handed. In fact I did 2 Thanksgiving feasts in 2 days last year. #6 is key to accomplishing this feat (if someone else cooks, I wash dishes as they go). In fact I adapted this technique to other household chores. But that’s for a different post. Or is it?

  7. posted by skiptheBS on

    Not quite kitchen related, but my favorite computer repair/upgrade mise en place is a strip of double-sided tape on the work surface for those pesky screws. Unlike containers, it never tips over.
    I love minimalist kitchens. Sharp knife, cutting board, and a big empty counter.

  8. posted by MJ Ray on

    I’m with Monique on this: get the ingredients out and ready with the relevant measuring devices (scales, spoons, cups…) but don’t create a ton of washing up by putting them all in small bowls. Even if you have a dishwasher, that’s still wasting water, detergent and whatever ingredients stick to the bowls. In a drought area, wasting water is big no no.

  9. posted by Denise on

    As a former home ec teacher, I definitely do this! I want to enjoy the experience of cooking, and having everything ready and prepared before launch makes it so much less stressful. One thing I highly recommend while prepping is to use a “garbage bowl” (stole the name from Rachael Ray). I have a medium-sized bowl where all disposables go – egg shells, onions peels, wrappers, whatever… that makes for one trip to the trash can, saving time and the likelihood of spilling or dropping anything!
    It was a total game changer when I started requiring my students to do this. Now if I could only get the other people living in my house to do this…

  10. posted by Melinda on

    What perfect advice! If I did this, I’m sure I’d have much better success in the kitchen!
    Also, thank you for defining “mise en place”.

  11. posted by Susan on

    I also do the bowl with soapy water in the sink routine. It makes clean-up really easy when you’re done. I have a dishwasher but I mostly hand wash because since uncluttering it would take me weeks to fill the dishwasher, and I’m pretty sure I no longer own enough kitchen stuff to fill it completely! CA is in a drought, I’ve heard that handwashing uses more water than dishwashing, but who knows? I use almost the same bowl, utensils, and cook pan for almost every meal, it takes a few minutes to wash them all.

    When I’m prepping the food, I put my under-sink compost bin right on the counter and just throw the scraps right into the bin.

    I had a pretty cluttered kitchen before uncluttering completely. Piles of kitchen stuff got donated. Now I have empty cabinets and drawers! It makes a huge difference to have clear countertops, I love to cook these days!

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