Prep Dishes and Mise En Place

According to Herbst, a ramekin is an individual baking dish (3 to 4 inches in diameter) that resembles a miniature soufflé dish (see photo).  Usually made of porcelain or earthenware, they are used to hold all manner of things from ice cream to soufflés to ingredients for a dish in preparation.  It is this latter function that is of interest here. Cooks have used preparation dishes or “prep dishes” for years to hold and organize ingredients.  Line cooks in restaurants start each day preparing meat, fish, veggies and whatever they need in a hurry to prepare their assigned items for plating or to be sent to the chef for plating, where he/she has more prep dishes filled with garnishes, for example.  In small kitchens, ramekins work well for this task.  Their big fault is that they don’t stack.

Readers are more familiar with TV chefs who have rows of clear glass prep dishes of measured ingredients, all lined up in the order of anticipated use.  You can be sure that the celebrity chef has an assistant (never seen) who has done all the work.  “Yes chef, the mise is out there.” “Mise” is short for mise en place , a French term referring to having the equipment at hand and all the ingredients for a dish prepared and ready to combine, up to the point of cooking.  Mise en place is a fundamental tenet of good cooking, world around.

The whole idea in the restaurant kitchen, the TV studio kitchen and our commercial kitchen/classroom at the McLean Community Center is to have
studied the recipes, know what is needed, have the drudge work done head
and, at the point of cooking, have all in readiness for an orderly preparation
of the dish without delays caused by missing or unready equipment or ingredients.

So too elsewhere in life:  the cook’s mise en place is quite like the military planner’s Rule of Six P’s, that is: “Prior planning prevents p-poor performance.”

So too at home.  In the photo, is a stack of stainless steel prep dishes—twelve of them.  I use them all the time, even when cooking
for the two of us.  For parties, the crudités alone can use
up five dishes, each filled with a prepared item, then saran wrapped and
placed in the fridge.  Nearly all the recipes on the Food page come
together more nicely and quickly if you use prep dishes and are devoted
to the concept attending them.

Porcelain ramekins are widely available or look for light weight, thin
stainless steel prep dishes in an Asian or Indian food and appliance store.
I checked last week and they were going for $3.00 each.

(Go here for another dimension of mise en place.)

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