How to cook mise en place

Everything in place

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Mise en place is a French cooking term that refers to the procedure of having all of your ingredients ready to go before you begin cooking. It can help reduce potential contamination because you won’t take shortcuts to get something ready to go into the pot (which is why it’s very common in restaurant cooking).

But it can also help home cooks ensure they don't make errors while trying new recipes. So, how is it done? Let's take a look at some easy ways home cooks can incorporate this preparation into their routines without a lot of hassle.

Mise en place: An overview

When cooking mise en place, you'll have all of your ingredients prepared and measured before turning on any heat. That means chopping fruits and vegetables, cutting meats and measuring other ingredients before you get started. That sounds like a lot of extra work, but it will actually save you time (and make the actual cooking process less stressful and less error-prone) once you're comfortable with it.

Tools you'll need

For mise en place cooking, you'll need several dishes of varying sizes to hold the ready-to-use ingredients. You can use large dishes for large quantities of pre-cut meats and veggies, medium and smaller ones for other ingredients, and very small ones for herbs and spices.

We recommend glass or microwaveable plastic just in case you need to melt or pre-warm something. You should have five to 10 of each size depending on your cooking style.

Chopping and cutting

You'll want all your meats, fruits and veggies chopped and cut before you start. You can save a little time later in the week on other dishes by doing ingredients you're using twice at the same time. Just carefully consider the timing. Cutting fresh green onions six days before you use them is just going to make them go bad faster.

For example, if you're making chicken scaloppine on Monday and you know you're having cashew chicken on Wednesday, it doesn't take much extra time to cut the cashew chicken into cubes after you've finished the other chicken. That's especially good if your cashew chicken recipe requires marination.

Chop the herbs and veggies first, then move on to the meats. That way, you can just wipe and go between cuttings and only have to sanitize your cutting surface and tools when you're done with them.

Spices and herbs

Spices and herbs should usually be measured into individual extra-small dishes. Once you're confident your measurements for the recipe are correct, you can dump all spices and herbs that go in at the same time into one dish.

The small dishes used most frequently for spices, herbs (and other ingredients you use in amounts less than a tablespoon or two) are the hardest to come by. They don't come with most sets and mise en place sets can be expensive. They rarely have enough small dishes — or small enough dishes — for a gal who likes her spices.

But you can actually keep the unused medicine measuring cups that you inevitably get too many of during cold and flu season and wash them by hand between uses (if your recipe doesn't require perfect accuracy, they're pre-marked with teaspoon and tablespoon measurements!). You can also just purchase small disposable ramekins (also reusable if washed by hand) or water cups.

Other ingredients

Measure out other ingredients, too, premixing or otherwise prepping anything that should be. For example, eggs should be beaten if necessary. If it's part of the recipe, pre-make that homemade mayonnaise or tartar sauce. Pay special attention to anything that needs to sit in the refrigerator for a while and make that first.

When you're done

While this seems like a lot of work, it's all stuff you'll have to do anyway, so why not use this method to cut your stress levels? When you're done, clean up everything from your prepping process. This will ensure there's nothing in your way while you're cooking and reduce how much you have to clean later. Then, get to cooking!

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Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix the Fish. You can follow her on Twitter @HireHeather.