What is included in prep time in a recipe?
Part of our Ultimate Guide to Recipe Writing. Click to see more answers to your questions.
At the beginning of a recipe there is often an estimated preparation time. Even so, many cooks are disappointed when they discover that it takes them far longer to make a recipe than they were led to believe. However, what seems to be an error made by the recipe’s editor is more likely a misunderstanding on the part of the cook.
The timing of a recipe is calculated with the assumption that the ingredients are ready for assembly when the cook sets to work. The preparation and laying out of all the ingredients is known by the French culinary term mise en place or “setting in place.”
Home cooks don’t always utilize a mise en place. They scoop flour directly from the bag, hunt for seasonings at the moment they should be added to the recipe, and chop each ingredient as it’s called for. Prep-as-you-go is fine for some recipes, problematic for others.
This means that if the ingredients include, for example,
4 tablespoons (57 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
…the butter will be at room temperature, the flour and milk will be measured and ready, and the onion chopped and measured. Only the salt and pepper will not have been pre-measured, and even they should be conveniently at hand.