Are you overdoing prep work in the kitchen?

mise en place
On Sara Moulton's website, she has an interesting article that's creating some buzz in the food world.  Whereas cookbooks, videos, and blogs have - at least for the last 10 years - argued that home cooks should always  prep and measure ingredients before starting to cook (a practice professional chefs call "mise en place"), Sara has decided this practice is mostly a waste of time. As she writes:

"I take my life into my own hands by saying this. I'm sure all my chef instructors from my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, will want to shoot me at dawn. But here is what I have discovered from cooking dinner at home 5 or 6 nights a week for the last 25 years - mise en place (meaning, prepping and measuring all your ingredients before starting a recipe) is a waste of time, literally."

To demonstrate her point, Sara walks through a hamburger recipe, noting that prepping it would have roughly doubled her time. Instead she shows how to look at the recipe and minimize the time needed to prep, largely by starting some ingredients cooking while prepping others. 

However, she does admonish that there are two times when prepping is essential:

  • When making any kind of Asian food that involves a lot of ingredients (each ingredient might spend 30 seconds in the pan, so if you are still mincing your chiles while the garlic and ginger is being stir fried, your garlic/ginger mixture will burn).
  • When cooking in a restaurant

While we agree with her for the most part, sometimes prepping before starting a baking recipe can prevent the dreaded "skipping the baking powder" or "oversalting" problems that we've all experienced. But, overall, reading a recipe a few times and planning some time-saving steps truly can't hurt. We'd love to hear your opinions - do you prep everything or just occasionally?


13 Comments

  • Jane  on  7/7/2012 at 1:03 PM

    I'm with Sara on this one. Unless as she says it's a stir-fry I generally cook and prep at the same time. The Cook's Illustrated 30 minute books are great for this - they tell you what to be prepping while each part of the dish is cooking. And like you Lindsay I do tend to prep baking, getting all the ingredients ready and measured before I start.

  • wester  on  7/7/2012 at 2:57 PM

    I don't usually prep either, mainly because of the extra washing up. I only do it if I have a lot of vegetables to cut (say, a whole cauliflower) and I can't do it while the onions are cooking. I admit it is pretty important to make sure you have everything before you start and not to skip steps in the recipe, but I find prepping not even a very efficient way of making sure you do everything. And if you skip adding a prepped ingredient, you don't just have a recipe with a missing ingredient, you also have a bowlful of prepped ingredient that is not going to be as nice the next day.

  • kuranes  on  7/7/2012 at 3:22 PM

    I cook with my partner and he acts as my prep chef. This works out well since I can start cooking immediately and he'll start chopping in the order which I'll need things. It saves so much time and we get to enjoy cooking together!

  • adrienneyoung  on  7/8/2012 at 7:30 AM

    I'm all for gathering ingredients beforehand. Just to be sure I've got them. Otherwise: case by case! But a tray of prepped ingredients and tools does look so pretty!

  • AngelNewsi  on  7/8/2012 at 10:55 AM

    If I'm baking bread, I find measuring everything out beforehand to be very helpful. It really does depend on the recipe. Even if I don't measure everything out first, I definitely put all my ingredients on the counter before I begin so I know I have everything!

  • janet perry  on  7/8/2012 at 1:59 PM

    I'd say we do a modified mise en place. IF I'm cooking my husband does prep or if he cooks, I do prep and read out the recipe. I do agree that measuring everything out takes too much time, so what I do is get everything out and measure it as needed. That way I don't forget stuff.

  • JeanieM  on  7/8/2012 at 7:15 PM

    I do a modified mise en place also. Usually I just gather all the ingredients and measure as I go, but if there is alot of chopping/slicing/dicing - i will do that before I start cooking

  • ellabee  on  7/10/2012 at 5:51 PM

    The first time I make a recipe, I always prep everything. Then, once done (often the next day), I'll rewrite the recipe with more efficient interwoven work steps. It's important to have done prep at least once to get an idea of how long some of the ingredients take.

  • dixiecaviar  on  7/11/2012 at 8:07 AM

    I love the idea of prepping, in theory. It makes me feel more organized than I really am. But on most nights, if the recipe isn't a zinger, I find that I am perfectly apt at prepping while I go. I also have a feeling that is going to be the trend once children enter the picture!

  • Mrs. L  on  7/11/2012 at 4:10 PM

    Sigh. I have to prep everything before hand. That way I don't forget an ingredient and if I get sidetracked, I'm not letting something burn on the stove. Otherwise I might find myself rummaging through the cupboards to make sure we do have baking soda while, oh really husband, you just used the last of it to clean one of your tools??? LOL true story!

  • sir_ken_g  on  7/11/2012 at 8:59 PM

    I will always prep as I go if I can. I will go one step further and avoid prep if I think I can. Do you really need to peel those tomatoes? Usually not.

  • Queezle_Sister  on  7/17/2012 at 9:31 AM

    I almost never prep, probably because that was not the way I learned to cook. And because time is limited, I usually can either prep or cook + prep. I will admit this leads to mistakes in food prep - but I've gotten pretty good at recovering from those mistakes!

  • veronicafrance  on  7/17/2012 at 10:25 AM

    I completely agree with her -- including the situations where she says it's necessary. Especially if it's a recipe you've made many times before, you know the points where you can prep the next stage while the current one is cooking. For new recipes, yes, read through and get all the ingredients out, just to confirm you've got them all. But the read through is also the point where I identify what I can do "meanwhile". For example if the onions don't go in till after the meat, I'll chop the onions while the meat is cooking. I do wonder if those professional chefs who insist on mise en place actually ever cook at home. They don't seem to have any idea that home cooks can and usually must multi-task :)

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