Mise en place is the big difference between the efficient line cook and the inefficient line cook. Messy work station = messy head = messy food and wasted effort. Mise en place is much less important for someone making a single bowl of something for his own dinner than it is for someone making 100 bowls of 5 things during the course of a night and trying to assemble them all post haste. However, if you are going to make 3 or more of something, it is a good idea to do a mise en place, assemble your work materials, and do things in an orderly fashion.
It also makes cleaning up much easier.
Ahhh, Mise en Place- the most important thing I leaned in culinary school!
My two cents- like MMMRuth and a few others, when it comes to ingredients, I use plates, platters and trays to lay out all the pieces for each dish- i just carry the tray to the stove and assemble- BTW Caterers will start the mise en place sometimes days before assembling a dish- putting the dry goods and some of the wet works in premeasured containers saves a lot of time on site and helps organization to no end.
My basic mise-
Cutting board, secured to the counter with a damp paper towel or rubberized shelf-liner
plate/platter for transfer to stove
bowl for scraps/garbage from the board
and the piece de resistance: From a restaurant supply store, I picked up one of those bar garnishing racks- you've seen 'em- a foot long with 5 removable containers- I fill one wih kosher salt, coarse ground black pepper, white pepper, sugar, and use the empty one for whatever today's recipe needs a bit of- garlic, dried herbs, spices, or use it to hold tasing spoons.
Here's how I do it... I read the recipe completely through. Take out the ingredients I need.
Then start with the first ingredient, if it's chopped onions, I chop the onions, etc...
I do not do the cooking show thing by putting 1 tsp of olive oil in a little cup, that just creates more dishes and is honestly a waste of time. Just have the measuring cups and oil, salt, baking powder, whatever at hand.
The key is to have everything all set so when you compile them all together, you don't leave the onions sweating too long or forget an ingredient.
I don't often do this, but when I do, I often use a large plate and just segregate each of the ingredients, if necessary. If four or five ingredients are to be added at the same time, I put them together in one bowl. Saves on the cleanup.
Now if only my cupboards could be magically arranged a la RR - so that the exact ingredients I need are right in front on the bottom shelf.
Yeah, the idea is that you should be able to complete every part of the cooking without having to run across the room or try to remember where you put stuff. I know that seems obvious, but I still remember the first morning in a new house, when I thought it's be cool to inaugurate my new kitchen by making four individual cheese omelets. Three cold, one scorched, the toast arrived in time for lunch...
Just make sure you have a lot of small dishes and bowls available. I pick up little custard cups and small glass bowls at garage sales for this purpose. Also - and this may sound stupid but it works for me - I use tiny post-it notes if I'm going to be using the same ingredient for two different dishes. If one recipe calls for 1/2 cup of chopped parsley and another calls for 1/4 cup, I'll chop all at once, and measure out into the dishes, identifying each one with a sticker. Works for me.
Have you ever seen a cooking show where they have little dishes and can just throw things in a bowl or a pan as they're talking? You know what I mean... "To the soy sauce, you add a tablespoon of grated ginger [thwock], three cloves of minced garlic [thwump], one scallion, thinly sliced [dump], a tablespoon of sesame oil (pouuuuuuur), a quarter cup of rice wine vinegar [splash] and a tablespoon of chili paste [scrape]."
All those ingredients, ready in their little bowls to go into the bowl, are a mise en place. You don't have to use little bowls; sometimes if I have a lot of chopped vegetables I'll just chop them in different areas of the board and use the board to lever them into the olive oil or whatnot.
That's the most mise en place is. At the very least, mise en place is getting your ingredients out so you make sure you have everything you need before you start cooking.
You'll find that you spend at least 60% of your time doing the mise en place, but it makes the actual cooking very, very relaxing, and it can save your dish... for example, when cooking in a very, very hot wok, you HAVE to have your mise en place, otherwise you'll scorch your food because it cooks so quickly. (That's why Chinese restaurants have huge carts of bowls full of the ingredients all set out for the wok master -- he can just use his ladle to dip out what he needs as he cooks.)
Here is my take on mise en place:
Measure out each ingredient in the recipe into little dishes or onto a plate.
Chop the fresh herbs, measure liquids ahead of time – do all of your prep. Basically it’s getting everything ready in advance so that when you are cooking it’s just an assembly process.
When the recipe calls for 1⁄4 cup of oil – you have it measured out and just pour it in. If the recipe calls for 2 shallots minced – you have that ready to add into the sauce.
It's so that you can cook just like they do on the cooking shows where everything is set out and ready. It’s well worth it. The time spent ahead of time in prepping everything lets you concentrate on technique and timing. Adopting this practice is especially good if new to cooking and you will find in time it comes naturally and is just how you do things.
it really depends what kind of food you're cooking, and for how many people. generally speaking, though, it's a way to have everything available so that once you start the actual cooking, you don't have to do any prep work, like chopping onions/herbs/garlic/veggies or go running through your kitchen trying to find the olive oil you need to drizzle in the pan. at restaurants, they'll often sear meat in advance or partially cook pasta in advance, then finish it when they get the orders.
a few items that would be good in most mise en place setups:
--salt and pepper
--chopped garlic or shallots
Mise en place is just having everything in a recipe chopped or sifted, etc and measured and on the counter in front of you before you begin cooking or mixing. A well-written recipe will have the ingredients listed in the order you use them, so that would be an obvious help in lining things up.