Mise en Place

Mise en place, (pronounced MEEZ-un-plass)  put simply means everything in its place.  If you want a trick to becoming a great cook, this is one concept to get your head around.  Do you ever wonder why chefs can put up all the food at the same time, all ready to go together, hot or cold?  Well it is all about being prepared and Mise en Place is one thing we are taught from the very first day.

If you walk into a restaurant that only serves dinner, say, at about noon, you will find everyone is busy preparing food for the night.  They will be cooking and chopping away.  What is happening is that we are setting ourselves up for the shift.  We are getting everything to a state of readiness, so all we have to do is “turn it out”  This is why when I have a party set to start at 7pm, I can be sitting on the couch at 6:30 enjoying coffee.

There are two parts to the statement Mise, everything, and place.  The everything part of the equation is pretty broad reaching and does cover a lot of things.

Prepared items are prepped as far as they can be, onions are chopped, garlic is mashed, tomatoes are seeded and it is all set up, so that when we need them, we simply have to grab them.  So if I were making a dish that required sliced mushrooms, garlic and onions, I would have them all chopped, well ahead of any cooking.

Foods that require cooking are cooked and seasoned, like a stock or a sauce, and set aside for when it will be needed for the dish.  Things are usually completed in this category, and only need to be added to a dish at the right time.

Partially cooked or finished items.  This is where it gets a little tricky.  We can cook some of our foods ahead, wholly, but some, only partially.  If I were to fully cook, say, Asparagus, before service, when I went to reheat it, it would be mush, not fit for consumption.  In cases like this we par-cook things so it speeds up the final cooking process, but it doesn’t impinge on the quality of said product.  With vegetables we will blanch and refresh in icy cold water, cooking them about 70% of the way.  Pasta, same thing, then toss lightly with oil so it is ready in 1-2 minutes, not 12.

Where everything goes is just as important as what it is, the key is organization.  On Thanksgiving, you will see an extreme if you come to my house the day before.  On my counter, I will have trays laid out.  On each tray will be the ingredients (most of them, the bulky ones) for a dish with the recipe if needed.  This is so I can find any holes in my shopping, which, ask my wife, happens all the time.  I always think I have something, only to realize I don’t.  The idea is that when I come to make one dish, I pull the tray, make the dish, and I am done.

Group things together, stack them, I will put all the veg together if I can on one plate and wrap it in the fridge for when I need it.  I will even label things with a Sharpie.  Look ahead and determine if you have common ingredients that you can chop ahead, like garlic or onions, for several dishes.

When you are ready to cook a particular dish, bring out everything you need for that dish.  If you are preparing one, then doing another, bring them both out.  My kitchen is great in that I can set up one dish on one side of my stove and the other on the other side for easy switching.

Before I throw a party, usually well in advance I will run a menu first.  Then I will determine my recipes for the menu, and group them together.  My master list will also include any cooking times, or critical points.  It would be bad on Thanksgiving to forget to put the Turkey in by 11am!

Next I will put together a shopping list of all the items, and consolidate any common items.  This I then even group together into area, dairy, produce, etc.  The other thing is not to forget basics like seasonings, garlic, onions, cream, butter and eggs for me.  This gives me options if I need something tweaked on the fly.

Once I have all that I make a prep list based on what I can do well in advance, just prior, and finally, at the end.  I will make time notes on things where it matters, like a carrot soufflé has to get in 40 minutes to cook, then set for 5 minutes before serving.  I also am very conscious not to overload the final hour.  I make specific choices so that some food is done and just baking, while a few things require attention right up to the end.

When a chef designs his or her menu for a restaurant, many things are taken into consideration, and a lot of it you can think of.  Types of foods, how many appetizers, how many mains, and so on.  Then we will look at cooking styles to make sure we have a variety and to make sure when our kitchen is cooking, the work load is spread out.  We also look at preparation times to make sure there is a mix there as well.  If we overload our menu with long to cook items, well you will be waiting, and we will have grills and ovens just full of food cooking, when we want it to be turning quicker than that.  We do this by controlling our product mix.

I would actually go as far as creating a spreadsheets, surprise!, that would have columns for time, methods, foods, sauces, hot, cold and further, just for the purpose of balancing the menu.

Take your time and plan the meal to what you can prepare within your own kitchen.  If you have a turkey cooking and 4 baking items that take over an hour, you will have a hard time of it unless you have two ovens!  Map it out, and it will help to take away much of the stress!

Buy containers that stack easy in your fridge for better organization.  I used to use these gorgeous, round containers, but then I could barely get four in my fridge.  I switched to a square, flatter container of the same size, and now I get double in there!

One important thing is to keep everything cool while you are setting up you Mise en place.  Be sure to get it cooled down right after cooking, and keep it covered.  Label when you need to, and keep the proteins and Potentially Hazardous Foods below raw foods.

I hope that helps you plan out your next event!

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