I was taking a cooking class at Sur La Table recently (which, by the way, is an accessible, fun, and social way to learn simple cooking techniques – I highly recommend it!) and was inspired by the instructor’s use of “mise-en-place.”
Mies-En-Place is a French culinary term that literally means “put in place.” It is the practice of gathering all the ingredients and tools one will need to prepare a dish and is typically the first lesson chefs learn in culinary school. Produce is chopped, spices are measured, broth is portioned, and necessary pots and pans are laid on the stove resulting in an organized and efficient meal prep.
I’ve always thought of this as a wise idea, but one I typically disregard. I often fool myself into thinking that I’ll have time to chop my vegetables while the meat is cooking or the lentils are simmering. While this sometimes works, it usually results in frenzied chopping, ignored and overcooked meats, and a terrible mess.
Ultimately, it’s these stressful situations that keep me from feeling motivated to cook in the future.
What struck me most about my instructor’s view on mine-en-place was her belief that it teaches you how to become a better cook. This is not because of the organization, or that you’ll be able to pay more attention to temperatures and cooking times, but because visually seeing all your ingredients laid out in order will help you know what to do with ingredients in the future.
One of the traits of not only being a good cook, but also feeling comfortable in the kitchen and supporting a nourishing lifestyle of homemade meals, is being able to improvise and even cook without a recipe. Those of us who are visual learners will benefit from being able to see the timeline of events and notice patterns across recipes. The goal is that one day you’ll be presented with a series of ingredients and know in which order to prepare them to create the most flavorful dish.
For example, a mirepoix (pronounced “meer-pwah”) is a combination of chopped onions, carrots, and celery that provides a flavorful foundation for many soup and sauce recipes. With consistent use of mine-en-place, you may begin to not only recognize this trio of ingredients, but also remember the correct ratio to chop, feel comfortable adding them to your recipe, and know how long they cook without having to refer to the recipe notes. With enough practice, you may even begin to experiment with substitutions – leeks instead of onions for a subtler flavor, or green peppers instead of celery like they use in Louisiana.
Do you practice miss-en-place? I’d love to know! Let me know how it works for you in the comments or snap a photo and tag with #parisinutrition.