This week we're back with a great blog topic - Why We Ask You To Read The Recipe. Even more importantly, why WE read recipes. I have a secret for you - we do it ALL...THE...TIME!! Every day - probably sometimes 20 recipes or more in a day when we're researching something. Whether it's in vintage books to look at old techniques that we can learn from to new cutting edge culinary techniques online, we're always reading recipes. For fun. Yes, it's what we do for fun! So we don't ask you to do something that we don't do every day.
Now, this isn't some form of torture that we inflict on you for our own amusement. Learning how to read and comprehend a recipe is training to help you become a better cook. In order to become comfortable and confident enough to go off recipe (no recipe), first you have to know how a recipe works. The scaling of ingredients, the timing, the order, the WHY! We never want you to learn without knowing the why. And we don't always have enough time to talk about why reading the recipe is so critical. So here we go!
1. It helps you practice discipline in the kitchen. This is something that professional chefs train on a daily basis - how to be disciplined. Is it important for the home cook? Absolutely. Discipline will help you stay on track and not get flustered with things go askew, which we all know happens from time to time.
2. It puts you in the recipe. This is the same as athletes who visualize success and their movements. Sound silly? It's really not. Visualizing how the recipe works, the method, the cooking process, the timing, will all help you be successful. This takes practice. At home, I would suggest sitting down and reading it once. Digesting and going back as many times as you need until you can fully understand what the recipe is telling you. Go through the movements in your head. This will help your timing in a huge way.
3. Is the recipe right?! This is a valid question. We make mistakes in recipes from time to time. So do other people that write recipes, especially if you are getting them online. Online recipes aren't going through copy editors and recipe testing. Some online recipes never get tested at all. So take a few minutes to make sure that the recipe makes sense - does it even work? Is there a step missing? Where does that butter in the ingredient list go? How will you fix it? Knowing this BEFORE you start is critical.
4. It helps you work out the order of the steps. First we do this, then we do that, now we can move onto the last step. We see people get ahead of the recipe quite often. Skipping to plating and the sauce isn't done - now you have a cold entree while you whip up the sauce. Make sure that you know the steps and the best order for you to do them in that is functional for your kitchen. If you need the blender twice, which component gets done first?
5. Once you have the basics down and you can read and decipher a recipe, it has a lot more to tell you. Recipes can help you learn what ratio of ingredients should go together - acid and fat for example. Over time this will help you naturally become more intuitive and learn how to scale a recipe. It also helps you understand what flavors go together. If you struggle with this, try reading a few different recipes for the same dish that have different ingredients. How do they differ in flavor but make a similar recipe?
6. Make your shopping list. Are you the type of person who likes to wander around the grocery story, aisle after aisle and browse? Are you always running back for the butter or the cream? Make a list of the things that you need right off of the recipe, in quantities. Need 4 1/2 cups of cream? One quart is going to leave you short. Make sure you list the quantity from your recipe so that if you need to convert cups to quarts, ounces to pounds, that you can do it on your phone in the store and make sure that you buy the right quantity.
7. In cooking classes, reading the recipe with your partner isn't just for you. It's for both of you to get to know each other, to take that first step working as a team. For the next 2-4 hours, this stranger is now your partner. We don't always do well with this as adults. Somewhere along the way we stop learning how to work together and start working as individuals. In a kitchen, you're only as strong as your team. So take the time to read the recipe together, out loud, to each other. It's a good ice breaker and it will also teach you how the other person works. We don't all put things in order the same way in our heads, or work at the same pace, and that's ok. But making sure you're on the same page as your partner is the key to success for your recipe. Come up with a game plan BEFORE you start chopping that onion!
I hope this helps everyone understand why reading the recipe, both in class and at home, is important for your culinary development. Once you start and practice that discipline, reading a recipe will become second nature. That A-HA moment will come when you find a recipe that tells you that it just cannot work the way it is written and you will have the confidence and skill to correct it and make it into your own! No more panic, no more last minute runs to the store and everyone will have full and happy tummy's! Every cooks final goal.