THE Technique for Saving Time and Energy in the Kitchen!

Are you glad all the holiday baking and cooking is over? Did the season leave you exhausted and swearing you’ll never do another big meal like that again? If so, maybe we outta talk about working smarter in the kitchen.

We outta talk about it because the fact is, big dinners (whether it’s holiday meals or just large gatherings of any kind) don’t have to be exhausting races against the clock. If large dinners stress you out, having a battle plan and some front-line assistance can make even the most demanding menu come off smoothly.

Working smarter (aka efficiently) doesn’t just save time, it makes you feel more in control of the process. Simply put, the more time you spend on getting organized, the more time and energy you'll have available for developing your own unique cooking style (move over Julia Child!).

Knowing that Cook’n cooks are avid and experienced cooks, I won’t bother you with a list of clever little kitchen tips. What I will bother you with, though, is the time-tested technique of mise en place. Ever heard of it? Every professional chef in the business lives and breathes by this meal-making approach.

Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc. before you start cooking. Pans are prepared. Mixing bowls, tools and equipment set out. It is THE technique chefs use to assemble meals quickly and effortlessly.

For instance, consider all the benefits practicing mise en place offers:

  • Any missing ingredients can be spotted before it's too late for a quick trip to the store or your neighbor next door.

  • Special preparation for ingredients (such as toasting nuts, letting certain ingredients come to room temperature, etc.) can be handled BEFORE cooking rather than in the midst of another preparation step, when time delays may affect food quality.

  • There is time to clean the mixing area as you go along rather than face a counter full of mixing equipment when you're done.

  • You can group ingredients or place them in the order used to assure all recipe steps are included.

  • It makes complicated recipes more fun to prepare when you're no longer doing a juggling act, trying to complete several tasks simultaneously.

I first learned of this food prep technique from my son, who’s a chef in Jackson, Wyoming. He was home for a holiday visit and we were preparing Thanksgiving dinner together for a substantial crowd of guests. I was getting a little frantic and overwhelmed at all the needed to get done and he tactfully suggested we approach the job the way the pros do—using mise en place. From that meal on I was hooked.

And the next day he took me shopping, to our local restaurant supply store, and bought me a set of “pinch” or “mini” bowls, also known in the chef business as “monks” (because they resemble monkey ears). They come in different sizes and hold from about 1 to 3 ounces. You’ll see TV chefs using these to hold smaller amounts of ingredients such as spices, a single egg, a couple tablespoons of cornstarch, etc. (A set of smaller-sized custard cups can work as well.)

So even though the holiday meals are behind us, consider spending this New Year mastering the art of mise en place. You’ll love how this technique not only saves you time and energy, but brings out the Julia Child in you as well!


    Alice Osborne
    DVO Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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