Mise-en-place is a technique that translates from French to “setting in place.” It is a philosophy normally used in professional kitchens for cooking, but the concept can be applied to nearly any process in your daily life. Simply organize and arrange all of your “ingredients” before you begin your process.
You probably already do it to some extent: your bathroom “ingredients” are all in the medicine cabinet (floss, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, etc.), at the ready for you morning and night; maybe you set out your clothes at night to wear the next day. If you already do some of these things, great! I am going to break down the process of mise-en-place in a few different contexts (cooking, in this post) to spark a few more ideas for your own processes.
Mise-en-place is really a form of organization that requires a little bit of work on the front end, in order to streamline your work and maximize efficiency once you begin working. For those who think they are a little neurotic, rejoice! This is the time to compartmentalize – put all of your individual process items into neat little packages for convenient retrieval. Once you go through your process (or as you go through it), put each item back where it was when you started so that the next time you work, you’ll have everything right at hand.
Mise-en-place is a delightful way to cook and to bake. All of your ingredients are prepped and ready to go before you even start to cook (yes, you did the footwork, not some little midnight elf, so thank yourself). There is a tidy spot on your counter where everything is already chopped and in neat little containers, awaiting your cooking-primed fingertips. Here is how you get there:
First, pull out and read through the recipe you are about to make. (I am going to make Escarole & Cannellini Bean Soup from The Frankies Spuntino: Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual - delicious, and great served hot for fall, cold for summer.)
Gather the cooking hardware you will need – ie.: chopping boards (wooden are best), knives, prep bowls, soup pot, sauté pan with lid, wooden spoons, timer.
Then gather the ingredients you will need, and do the initial prep work, such as chopping, so that you can clear the cutting board and knives before you begin cooking.
2 cups (12 oz) dried cannellini beans (I cheat and use pre-cooked, canned beans)
¼ cup olive oil, +additional for garnish
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper (I prefer black)
Red pepper flakes
8 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, cut lengthwise in half
1 or 2 heads of escarole, cut into 1-inch pieces (3-4 cups) - I subbed in kale sprouts
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
(*Note: Depending on the state of your beans, this recipe could take 10+ hours, or it could take a half hour.)
If you are using dried cannellini beans, soak them for 8 hours, replacing the water once during the soak, before cooking. Otherwise, cheat with me and use canned beans.
Chop your onion, celery, carrot, and garlic, placing each in their own prep container or bowl. Once you have chopped all of your ingredients that need chopping, clear the chopping board, clean, and store it away. Wash your knives, and replace them in the knife block. Now you can begin cooking.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide, deep soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and season them with pinches of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Sauté the aromatics, stirring regularly, until the onion is going golden, the celery is translucent, and the carrot is softened, 12-15 minutes.
While this is sautéing, clear the prep bowls, either rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher, or washing them by hand and putting them away immediately. Rub a half of a lemon on your wooden cutting board or spray it with vinegar and scrub it under cool water. Dry it thoroughly and put it away.
Add beans, broth, and the bay leaf to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer gently. If you have used dried beans, cook for two hours, or until the beans are soft but not disintegrating. If you have used canned beans, simply keep the soup at a low simmer while you are preparing the garlic and escarole.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook it slowly for 8-10 minutes, until it has gone a pale gold and is sweetly aromatic, with the tiniest amount of brown around the edges.
When the garlic is good to go, increase the heat to medium-high, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook for 30 seconds and add the escarole (here, kale sprouts), piling it high. Add a large pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Cover the pan and cook for 4 minutes.
Toss the escarole (or kale sprouts) again and then add to the beans. Serve soup hot or chilled. Finish each bowl with a splash of olive oil, freshly ground pepper, and a few tablespoons of grated cheese. (Freshly chopped parsley is particularly good when it is served cold.)
Cleanup is much simpler now, as a result of having prepped and cleaned as you have cooked. All you have left to clean are the soup pot, sauté pan, cooking spoons, and dishes from which you just ate.
(Disclaimer: I do not have children in the picture, and so do not have that added variable. I recognize that it might compound some of your efforts, but if you cook mise-en-place, it may also relieve some mad scrambles as you cook and clean while caring for your kiddos. Also, a second pair of hands (…spouse…) can seriously help.)