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Do you prep in advance or when you're ready to cook?

I've been cooking for a long time (don't ask) and do most of the cooking in our house. However the wife and I like to relax on the porch before dinner and have a couple of cocktails, say from 5:30 TO 6:30. The problem that creates is that if dinner requires a lot of prep work, it can really be late before we eat.

I've always thought it was a bad idea to prep food (chop onions, shallot, herbs, etc.) in advance. But then I got to thinking that that's certainly how restaurants do it. It's not like they're going to chop a fresh shallot for every meal ordered. Of course they do all this prep in advance of cooking anything.

So more and more I have found myself doing all of my prep work before cocktail time. Chopping all the vegies (and wrapping them in plastic or putting them in a small dish covered), measuring out spices onto a plate, measuring and pouring any liquids such as stock or wine. I have even started pre-cooking or par cooking some items and then just either finishing them off or heating up at dinner time. Now when cocktail time is over, I can have dinner on the table in less than 1/2 the time.

Just wondering if everyone else already does this and it just took me 40 years to figure it out.

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  1. Yes!! Having your mise en place ready in advance is a time-saver. However, being a ditz, I'll often realize after cooking, "Oops, forgot to dump in the shallots, etc." Even though the little dish is sitting right there in front of me....D'oh!! Adam

    3 Replies
    1. re: adamshoe

      Plus it can be quite dangerous to do the chopping after cocktail hour!

      1. re: janniecooks

        Ha, Ha, good point. That's why I keep bandaids handy.

        1. re: janniecooks

          Mise en place is the only way to go. Too many copas of "Sangre de Cristo" before slicing and dicing yields too many tazas of "sangre de veggo".
          And you control your cooking pace with different ingredients infinitely better.

      2. I prep as early as I can when I'm entertaining not so much when it's just the two of us. I haven't found that slicing and dicing ahead of time detracts from the food. And when we're entertaining, our guests arrive and I start talking and cocktailing and if I hadn't prepped to the nth degree I'd be doomed. I do this SO much that my favorite sentence by noon of the day of the gathering is "Well, dinner's done." And, no, I haven't always done this. And, yes, I had more harried times and lesser meals back then.

        1. I try to prep in advance whenever I can. Sometimes I will even cut or chop things up the night before. I work full time, so this way I can come home and it's a lot quicker to get things on the table.

          Sometimes I prep more than others, though. For example, if I am making fajitas for dinner, I will often cut up peppers and onions the night before and stick them in tupperware. Makes things go quicker. Other times I will measure everything out (spices, stocks, etc.) and line them up on my counter ready to go into the mix.

          I find that the more I measure/chop ahead of time, the easier it is all around. Of course, I end up with a million different bowls that are dirty, but they all just go into the dishwasher anyway.

          1. I only prep when I have to -- eg. multi-course meals, more elaborate stir-fries, etc. But I find that it takes more time when I prep beforehand. When I usually cook, I end up multi-tasking -- prepping for things while something else cooks or while a pan heats up. Eg -- if I'm making a simple stir-fry of sauteed greens, while the pan heats up, I wash my greens and mince my garlic, etc.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Miss Needle

              You are correct. I find the overall time does end up being more. But I'm not that much of a multi tasker in the kitchen. It reminds me too much of what I do at work. Kudos to those who can pull it off.

            2. I would definitely prep if you want to have a happy hour before dining. It is no different than prepping for a dinner party. Just cover with saran and put in fridge if you are concerned.

              1. I/we have a similar routine: Drinks at 5~6 and then she wants dinner by 7. This can be interesting. Sometimes I have to get things put on early and I'll prep things that are easy; like last night I got the roast on early and had the broccoli in a pan, ready to have the heat turned on to steam. Later, though, I was running late and forgot to fix the yams, so I punted by warming a rice medley from the day before.
                I can usually do dinner in an hour. I will stage preparing dishes so I can continue to prep foods while other things are cooking but I rarely do any mise en plas hours ahead.
                I make a trip to the herb garden first (and get them cleaned), then I get everything laid out to be sure I don't forget anything; then I start. I also make sure I have enough clean tools and pans before I start. By then I'm usually sipping on wine.... If there is any lull I might grate cheese, slice bread, chop parsley or put out olives in preparation for plating and finalizing.
                Occasionally, I cut corners if I am running late. I might use toasted, granular garlic, instead of fresh, or use dried oregano. That's about it. I've been cooking for over fifty years and I'm just getting the hang of it. Drinking wine while cooking, ala Julia Child or Justin Wilson has helped me a lot! Confidence, from experience in multi-tasking is a big plus.

                1. what a lovely practice, bnemes! i might hve to learn to prep cook just to instate such a cocktail hour in my household.

                  in truth, though, i avoid prepping in advance because it was drummed into me by health freak parents that you lose lots of vitamins to the ether if you chop veggies or fruit in advance. if i have to prep in advance, it'll usually only be small things like peeling the garlic and putting it into a bowl, washing all the veggies i need, etc...

                  sounds like you're more precise of a chef than i am, though. i can't remember the last time i *measured* spices for a savory meal!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: cimui

                    Ha, Ha... I wonder if you really could lose vitamins by pre-chopping. Do they get stuck to the knife or fall off the pieces? I was more concerned about them maybe getting mushy. And I'm not really that precise unless I'm baking. I will generally just eyeball the amounts. But getting all of the spices I need on a plate in advance keeps me from missing them when I need them in the recipe and let's me add them quickly at once.

                    1. re: bnemes3343

                      you got me wondering, so i looked it up. according to this source, at least, you wouldn't really lose that many vitamins by prepping an hour or two in advance: http://nutrition.about.com/od/askyour...

                      another argument in favor of cocktail hour. :)

                      1. re: bnemes3343

                        No, they are exposed to oxygen and oxidize. Especially water soluble vitamins.

                        1. re: sarah galvin

                          Nah, sorry, you can't loose any significant amount of vitamins or nutrients by pre-chopping. Some aromatic compunds can volatilize, but even visible oxidation - reduction reactions are not going to result in measurable nutrient loss.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I agree, the loss will be minimal. Way more loss if soaked in water.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              I resemble that! I loose all kinds of nutrients and vitamins chopping veggies! I can even get volatile (if my effort is not appreciated!) I am right now... I'm reduced to a seething mass of nutrient loss!

                      2. I like to prepare everything in the morning before school or work. I wash and cut up whatever vegetable we are having and put it in a ziplock bag. If we are having chicken or tofu, I put it in another bag or pyrex to marinate. Sometimes I even measure out rice or quinoa. But some things I do while the pans or oven is heating, like chopping onions.

                        1. I do all of my prep work the day of the meal, When I have my cutting board out I prep all my veggies at once for lunch and dinner.

                          The only thing I like to make a day ahead is stock, makes it easier to skim the fat, and infuses more flavor in the stock.

                          1. I had mise en place beaten into my head in culinary school and continue the habit even though I no longer cook professionally. I also keep the sink filled with dishwater and clean as I go, another holdover from those days. The cocktail hour is way more relaxing when you know the kitchen is clean and you are ready to rock and roll at the stove!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: dragonchowmein

                              I'm surprised so many people do this. And irritated that it took me so long to figure it out. I should have gone to culinary school. Cleaning as you go though is something I'm not too good at(other than to keep the counters and cutting boards clean). I use my sink for a garbage bowl.

                              1. re: dragonchowmein

                                No culinary school but I had a business where you had to use sharp tools, plan ahead and be conscious of timing and the interaction of chemicals.
                                I like to have a clean counter, all my materials in front of me and all the tools I need, at the ready; just like a surgeon....

                                1. re: Scargod

                                  Yes, I agree. Even if it isn't all chopped and ready, just having it ready is a huge help. Maybe plan menus that don't require a lot of prep.

                              2. Prep? I'm either cooking or not cooking and since I don't have a dishwasher all those little bowls would be a nightmare.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: Sally599

                                  I don't have a dishwasher either, Sally, hence the sink full of soapy water.

                                  1. re: dragonchowmein

                                    I don't have a dishwasher either- that's why I use Ziplock baggies.

                                  2. re: Sally599

                                    I'm fixing my stuffing for TD tomorrow. Today I chopped the onions and celery and wrapped them tightly in plastic and then put into ziploc bag (keep the onion odor out of the fridge). The cornbread is made, the white bread is dried and cubed, the stock for the giblets is made. So I have all that prep done which will make putting it all together tomorrow a snap. Prep to me is a totally self-serving tool. I get to enjoy happy hour more :)

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      Kudos to you. Prep in advance is really a must for a day like Thanksgiving. Otherwise you're running around like a crazy person on the day. But some prep is not a great idea. A few years back my sister hosted thanksgiving and boiled the potatoes for mashing the night before. And left them in the water until the next day. Can you say glue. Water being the big enemy of potatoes for mashing, these were absolutely horrible. Have a nice TDay

                                      1. re: bnemes3343

                                        I can't believe she left the cooked potatoes in the water. Oh dear. And then they actually got served? Eeewwww. You also have a lovely day.

                                  3. I'm a firm believer in mise en place. Keeps things from burning while you look for or dice something. In fact, sometimes I do mise en place so far in advance for holiday meals the whole dish is finished and in the freezer a few days in advance! I call it "ProActive Cooking." '-)