Is mise en place really necessary?

Read the foreward to any cookbook and the author will probably mention mise en place. It is touted as the key to making sure your food will turn out well, and there are definitely benefits to the practice. But, as Mark Bittman points out in a recent episode of his podcast focused on the new edition of How to Cook Everything Fast, it’s not the end-all-be-all to great cooking, and it can even make meal prep more difficult than it has to be. (Fast forward to 1:32 to avoid a longwinded ad.)

Bittman says that the “restaurant model of cooking that became so popular, of doing mise en place, sort of assumes that you have an assistant or two to do the mise en place.” However, as he remarks, home cooks do not have assistants to prep everything (or, and equally important to me, to clean up afterward). Bittman champions a different method that he and long-time collaborator Kerri Conan call “real-time cooking” where people make use of the “down time” that naturally occurs with most recipes.

Conan and Bittman posit that if you get into the natural flow of cooking, you can save substantial time, chopping an onion while the oil preheats, for example, shaving a quarter or more of the time needed to make the dish. It’s a more intuitive way to prepare food, but they do note that if you aren’t familiar or comfortable with the process, you may want to continue with mise en place in the beginning, reducing it gradually as you become more confident in the kitchen. Bittman notes that the recipes in the new edition of How to Cook Everything Fast, all of the recipes should be take 30 minutes or less, and the book is “much more on target,” compact, and efficient than the original version.

Having never mastered mise en place, I do gravitate toward this “go with the flow” style of cooking, although I occasionally forget an ingredient because I don’t have everything laid out and prepped. To me, the time savings (and having fewer dishes to do) makes up for any errors that happen, although this style also serves as justification for my seeming inability to gather and measure all of the ingredients in advance.

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  • jecca  on  November 30, 2022

    Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express is one of the only cookbooks I own where fast really does mean fast! I’m definitely looking forward to this new edition of How to Cook Everything Fast.

    So many recipes that give estimated times are wayyyy off base for home cooks because the time does not include prepping the mise en place. It’s definitely helpful to have ready for some recipes, but the time to get it together really needs to be factored in.

  • lkgrover  on  November 30, 2022

    Putting all the ingredients on the counter before starting has saved me several times, because I am missing a random ingredient. Sometimes I can substitute, but not always. The prepping ahead is less necessary, unless making a fast-moving recipe like stir-fries.

    I like to clean as I go, using the down time in recipe instructions. It makes the meal more enjoyable to know that much of the clean-up is already done.

  • CapeCodCook  on  December 1, 2022

    I realize that I have the luxury of more time since I retired, but I savor the time setting up my mise en place.

  • lean1  on  December 1, 2022

    I try to use mis en place because sometimes I may not have all the ingredients before I start cooking. and I clean as I go or load the dishwasher and run it when finished cooking.

  • averythingcooks  on  December 1, 2022

    I am also a confirmed “mise en placer” both when cooking a dish right away or more often these days, prepping early in the day to be put together later. Yes, I also have some luxury re: time now that I am retired but when I worked, my habit more often than not was to get everything out, prepped, measured etc and then make the dinner later (maybe after a pre-dinner hot tub :). And yes – no kids and partner T never got home from his work until 6:30 or later. But even now, for both savory meals & baking, I find I am calmer and less likely to forget something when it is all out & ready to go. I also believe clean up is way faster because this way, I can clean up (rather than prep) as the cooking steps proceed …so many things can be dealt with / put away during the “down time”.

  • Larkspur  on  December 1, 2022

    My spouse always does mise en place but he is a slow cook so is the weekend cook. As the weeknight cook, I do more what Mark Bittman talks about. There are times when mise en place is quickest and other times when it isn’t.

  • gamulholland  on  December 1, 2022

    I guess I have kind of a hybrid style. I get everything out, but I don’t necessarily prep it all beforehand. I also rope my kids or husband into being my sous chef. :). This means the kids are actually learning how to cook, which is a life skill. My mother was an excellent cook but I had to learn on my own as an adult. And I definitely clean up as I go along, because my mother never did, and my siblings and I had to do the dishes— she and my dad threw huge, fancy dinner parties that showed off her cooking skills, and she never washed a thing.

  • breakthroughc  on  December 3, 2022

    I am all about efficiency so have never subscribed completely to the Mis en place theory. I have always naturally cooked using a combination. I read the recipe and figure out what I need to have ready before I start cooking and what I will have time to prep as I go along. Most “fast” or weeknight recipes could never be accomplished in the stated time by mis en place. I can see where this book might be helpful to inexperience cooks where timing is an issue for them.

  • Rella  on  December 3, 2022

    I have my receipe already printed out with hand-written notes (changes) on the old Ikea table in the middle of the room.
    I mis en place while spouse chops (lots of chopping in our recipes. I put back (remis en place?) items. We both do the clean up. We have been doing it this way for many years. It works for us. Happy in the kitchen!

  • dyanarose  on  December 3, 2022

    😀 I think this could use a sentence explaining what “mise en place” actually is. In context I’m guessing it means pre-preparing all the ingredients, ready to be used, before starting cooking?

  • bittrette  on  December 29, 2022

    Mise en place is very important when I cook. I don’t trust myself to do all the prep in the proper order, with the proper duration of time, and have everything come out in a photo finish. Sometimes prep tasks mesh; other times they don’t.
    For mise en place dishes, I use whatever I have that’s of food-grade quality and can be kept clean. The plastic dishes from .icrowavable frozen entrées. The plastic containers that came from stores and that held fruit or baked goods or prepared foods. Takeout containers from restaurants. Or else zip-lock bags. As long as they’re food-grade, washable and fit the food.

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