I consider myself to be a practical cook. If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. When it comes to physical mise en place I like to keep it as simple as possible. Physical mise en place is preparing all of the tangible elements in your kitchen to get you ready to cook. Four things I focus on when physically preparing my space are starting with a clean kitchen, cleaning as I go, setting up workstations, and prepping ingredients.
Start with a clean Kitchen
Like I mentioned in my last post, starting with a clean kitchen does wonders for helping me feel motivated and excited to cook. I especially focus on clearing any dirty dishes in the sink and making sure there is plenty of clean counter space.
Clean as you go
Taking a little bit of time to clean as you go will save you tons of time in the end. A few things that help me clean as I go:
- Keep a towel and sanitizing spray readily avilable for wiping down counters
- Empty the dishwasher so it is ready to be loaded as I go
- Clean up after every task
Set up your workspace
I like to divide my workspace into a prep station and a cooking station.
At my prep station I keep my cutting board and knife and anything I need to help me prep ingredients.
Key elements of my prep station:
Knife– Stored safely above my cutting board with the blade facing away from me. Anytime I set my knife down it is stored like this.
Honing steel– Stored above my knife. A honing steel helps keep your knife sharp. A sharp knife is a safe knife.
Clean kitchen towel– Just to the right of my cutting board. I use this to wipe down my cutting board as needed.
Cutting board– Underneath my cutting board I put a wet paper towel to keep my cutting board from sliding around as I cut. If you do not use paper towels a piece of shelf liner works great and is reusable.
Bench scraper– Just to the left of my cutting board. I use this to scoop up the food I have prepped. It is a lot safer than using your knife. Using your knife to transfer food dulls your blade over time.
At my cooking station I store essential tools and ingredients only to keep my workspace organized and clean.
Key elements of my prep station:
Crock– Filled with essential tools only. In my crock is a wooden spoon, tongs, a spatula and a whisk.
50/50 blend of oil in a squeeze bottle– I use half olive oil and half canola oil. The olive oil provides great flavor and the canola oil raises the overall smoke point so I can cook at higher temperatures. The squeeze bottle makes the oil easy to grab and use.
Salt– I use kosher salt and keep it in an open container. This way, the salt is always accessible.
Pepper grinder– Nothing beats freshly ground black pepper. If you have pre ground black pepper in your pantry throw it out right now and get yourself a pepper grinder and whole black peppercorns. The difference in taste is night and day.
Before I cook I like to have all my ingredients cut, prepped and ready to go. When I think of this I picture all of those little glass bowls filled with beautiful ingredients on a Food Network TV show. Can you store your prepped ingredients this way? Of course you can! It looks beautiful and helps keep things organized. Do I store my ingredients this way? Nope! Again I am a practical cook. I don’t want to wash more dishes than I need to.
Instead, I keep in my mind where all the ingredients will end up. For example, prepped vegetables can go into the bowl that I will use to toss them with olive oil and salt and pepper before roasting. This not only saves you from cleaning more dishes than you need to, it also helps you with the cooking process. If you read my last post and have practiced making a plan and creating an equipment list, this shouldn’t be too hard to plan for. I do recommend having a landing zone for each item you cut and to not store them on your cutting board. When you crowd your cutting board you resort to cutting in weird angles which is not safe.
I tell the students in my cooking classes to set yourself up for success. Try to pause and check yourself every once in a while to see if you could be improving the efficiency of your workspace. Again, the whole point of mise en place is to prepare as much as you can before you cook so that cooking is easy and more enjoyable. Practice preparing your physical space before you cook and see how it affects the whole cooking process.