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mandolin with sliced vegetables

Learn About Mise En Place From OXO Chef in Residence JJ Johnson

Organizing your ingredients before you begin to cook is a game-changer, no matter what you’re making. Learn about this foundational technique from our OXO Chef in Residence.

8 min read

Cooking can be a hot job—and no one wants to sweat more because they can’t find the colander or have to paw through the crisper drawer for the parsley at the last minute. Truth: we’d rather cook effortlessly like TV chefs who casually pull bowls of diced onions and minced garlic from beneath the counter to add to a sauté pan. Is it a magic trick?

Nope, it’s a process called mise en place and it’s one you can learn quickly and then incorporate it into your daily cooking routine. To help you master it, learn what mise en place means, why it matters in the kitchen, and then follow these smart tips from OXO Chef In Residence JJ Johnson, a James Beard award winner, owner of NYC restaurant Fieldtrip(Opens in a new window), and author of The Simple Art of Rice(Opens in a new window): Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table.

 

JJ Johnson cooking

What does mise en place mean?

Mise en place is a French term that means “put in place.” When cooking, it refers to a technique that includes prepping ingredients and gathering all of the equipment you’ll need for a recipe ahead of starting to cook. Putting in this work before you even fire up the stove or oven can streamline the process of cooking, no matter what you’re making, and it can help you achieve a tastier dish in the end.

Depending on what you’re making, mise en place might include such tasks as peeling carrots, deveining shrimp, chopping celery, measuring chicken broth, or finding your set of tongs and the sheet pan you’ll need for a roasted pork and veggie dish. Professional chefs swear by mise en place—it’s what makes it possible to seamlessly create dozens of dishes at a restaurant—but it’s a lifesaver for home cooks, too.

JJ Johnson cooking

Why mise en place is important

If you’ve ever made a stir fry, you know how important mise en place is. For this and other fast, multi-step recipes, you can’t stop to hunt for ginger and then chop it finely, because in the few minutes that takes, the scallions or butter already in your hot pan can quickly burn. Mise en place helps to reduce basic mistakes, including overcooking.

That’s why seasoned pros know that having spices measured and the wine poured for deglazing before you start will save your sanity in the kitchen. “If you prepare ingredients and set out tools before you cook, you won’t be a cabinet-dasher or fridge-dasher anymore and you’ll cut down the stress of cooking tremendously,” points out Johnson.

And when you don’t have to prep-as-you-go, that means the focus can move away from the ingredients and toward actually cooking the food. The result: You can concentrate on the fish, for example, without being distracted and risk drying it out.

JJ Johnson cooking

Once you nail mise en place, Johnson points out that you can transfer these skills to other areas of the kitchen, like keeping a well-organized fridge or arranging your knives so you’re using the right ones for the right foods. “This will make your process a whole lot easier,” he explains.

Ready to dive into mise en place? Follow Johnson’s pro tips for a more efficient process in the kitchen:

Read the whole recipe. It’s tempting to dive into a recipe before checking all the steps, but reading it fully is key. “If you don’t do this you might realize, ‘Oh gosh, I was supposed to put the garlic in first—shoot!’ and then you have to run around,” says Johnson. You might also learn the meat should be at room temperature or you’re missing an ingredient, such as a shallot for salad dressing.

Chop it right. By taking the time to mise en place, you can prep your ingredients correctly. For example, size matters for some recipes or cooking techniques—there’s a difference between large dice, small dice and mince when you’re chopping. With mise en place, you’ll have time to create the right shape for each ingredient and the recipe will be better in the end.

JJ Johnson cooking

Chop it all. If you’re cutting onions for a recipe on Monday, chop enough to use later on. “I’m a firm believer in always over prepping when you cook, so don’t just cut a quarter of an onion or a little squash—dice it all and now you have it in your fridge ready to go for the next dish,” says Johnson. You might cut down food waste too since you won’t have a forlorn half an onion lying in the crisper.

Invest in bowls. Johnson is a fan of prep bowls for his mise en place ingredients, in part because it keeps everything organized. But these smart tools also have lids so you can cover them if anything’s left over and store them in the fridge. No bowls at your house? You can also set up your mise en place on a cutting board or large plate and then add each ingredient as you go.

Find the tools. Once your ingredients are ready, pull out the equipment. This way, you won’t need to pause to clean the fish turner or hunt for the beaters. You might also see that the skillet you own is too small and you’ll have to divide the chicken thighs you’re browning into two pans.

JJ Johnson cooking

Measure liquids. Oil, vinegar, sauces, and dressings can be prepped ahead and stored in measuring cups or handy squeeze bottles. These bottles are especially useful for keeping your prepared sauces in the fridge for future salads, grain bowls, and other recipes.

Consider a tray. Once everything is minced and measured, line up your impressive work on a tray or sheet pan, and put each ingredient in order of when you’ll need it. This will allow you to move all the ingredients to the stove’s edge at once. Now, you’re really ready to start cooking.

Give mise en place a try in your kitchen and see if it makes a difference in your cooking approach. Looking for more kitchen techniques to add to your repertoire? We’ve got everything you need to know about grilling and tips for using non-stick sauté pans.

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