When I registered for a cooking class in high school, I remember thinking, "This is gonna be great -- I get to spend an hour every day playing around in the kitchen!" Well, I did, but I also learned a lot. Our teacher was very passionate about techniques and culinary vocabulary, but also about showing us tips and practical skills.
One of the most basic skills a culinary student learns is mise en place. Translated literally from French it means "put in place." This is a great practice for any cook, but especially if you're new to cooking or trying a new recipe.
Mise en place is deceptively simple, but being organized and prepared in the kitchen saves time and frustration. There's no forgetting the salt or having to stop your work if you forgot to separate the eggs.
The basic idea of mise en place is this:
Read through your recipe to get acquainted with the ingredients and steps.
Gather all of your ingredients and cooking tools including spoons, knives, bowls, measuring cups.
Measure and prepare each ingredient according to the recipe.
Note: According to culinary tradition, each measured/prepared ingredient is placed in its own bowl. While an incredibly organized way to cook, it's not very realistic. Instead, feel free to mix ingredients you know will go together (i.e. in above picture are the ingredients needed for chicken picatta breading that I measured out into the dish I'd use for dredging the chicken).
Mise en place was the single best skill I learned in my high school cooking class because it forced me to read a recipe well before I start cooking. I had the chance to think about how the recipe would play out while I cooked and prepare ahead of time.
What about you? Do you always organize your ingredients before cooking or only with recipes you aren't familiar with? Do you have your own system that helps you save time and make cooking easier?