Have you ever made a recipe that says it only take 25 minutes to prepare but ends up taking more like 40 minutes, maybe even 50 if you’re making it for the first time? Did you wonder if it was a typo or perhaps a miscalculation on the part of the cookbook writer? Well, that’s a thought… but it’s not likely.
Keep in mind, the “prep time” is referring to how long the writer is estimating it should take you to prepare the recipe from start to finish, excluding cooking time. Where the problem may lie is that the writer is assuming that you set up your “mise en place” before you started cooking.
OK, now some of you might be thinking…”mise en place”…what kind of cooking tool is that and do they sell it at Bed Bath and Beyond? Well I’ve got good news for you. It is not some fancy French cooking gadget and better yet, it’s nothing you need to buy!
“Mise en place” (pronounced “miz-a-plas” ) is French for “putting in place” and for anyone who cooks, it is the act of gathering and organizing all of the things you need beforeyou actually start cooking. It can be something as simple as just laying out all your ingredients and kitchen tools on the counter so that you know you have everything you need ahead of time or go one step further and prep your ingredients – chop, dice, slice everything that needs to be chopped, diced and sliced and pre-measure all of your wet and dry ingredients so that they are all ready and waiting for when it’s time for that ingredient to be added to the recipe.
All you Food Network junkies (of which I admit I am one!) have probably seen the show ”30 Minute Meals” with Rachel Ray. If so, then you’re familiar with how she makes a big production about getting all of her ingredients together at the opening of the program, juggling a carton of eggs on top of the mixing bowls, tucking her zucchini under her chin while pulling different spices out of the pantry, etc. What she is doing is setting up her mise en place. You can bet that the meal would take longer than 30 minutes to prepare if Rachel had to keep running back and forth in her kitchen to grab a whisk out of one drawer, set it on the counter, then go back to her fridge to grab the carton of eggs! The show would have to do considerable editing to keep within the 30 minute time-frame if not for her mis en place.
Now, one thing I would suggest to not copy from Rachel is the juggling act. Don’t try to gather all of your tools and ingredients all on the same trip like Rachel does. Dropping a bowl full of eggs because you overloaded yourself is definitely not going to save you any time!
So aside from cutting down on the running around in the kitchen and obvious time savings, why else is preparing your mise en place a good practice? Well, when you have your mise en place, you’re less likely to accidentally leave out an ingredient. Or at least you’ll know there’s no question if you’ve left something out when you get to the end of the recipe and you see that you still have that teaspoon of baking soda sitting there. Now whether it’s still OK to add it into your recipe will be the real question!
Preparing your mise en place is a vital step that should never be skipped and if you weren’t doing it before, I highly recommend that you do so in the future. You’ll be surprised at how it will make your cooking process easier and more enjoyable, which is how cooking should be!!