How to Read a Recipe
Last week, I covered all of the facets of writing a recipe, but what about reading one? You’ve decided what you want to make, found the perfect recipe for it, so you’re ready, right? Wrong.
Following a recipe is not as simple as it seems, and oftentimes little mistakes can lead to disastrous results. So, before you put on your apron and sharpen that knife, read these simple tips on how best to read a recipe.
Sit down, and read.
Believe it or not, one of the most common mistakes of following a recipe is not reading the entire recipe all the way through before starting. Before you even head out to the store to gather ingredients, sit down and read the recipe carefully from start to finish. Little things like "marinate overnight" or "let dry for at least eight hours," may put a major speed bump in your schedule, so the earlier you know, the better. When reading through what ingredients are needed, make sure you’re checking to see not only what you need but also when and how they’re used in the recipe. This will help you become acquainted with the recipe and learn the process. Finally, look up any terms that you’re not familiar with or don’t understand so that you’re fully educated before cooking.
When reading through the recipe, make a note of the type of equipment needed to make the dish — everything from pasta pots to rice mills — and take them out and make sure they’re within arm’s reach. Don’t have something? Try to think of alternative types of equipment often there are many ways to improvise.
Mise en Place
OK, I don’t expect you to know what that means, but in layman’s terms, it basically means prep. French for "everything in it's place," it's getting everything that you need ready to go before you start the actual process — picture a cutting board with several pretty little glass bowls filled with colorful ingredients (you’ve probably seen such a thing on your favorite cooking show). What you’re essentially doing is prepping your ingredient list, so go through and look for descriptions like minced, chopped, peeled, blanched, and cooked. Any descriptions that are listed in the ingredient list are separate from the actual recipe, so they’ll need to be ready beforehand. While on that topic — and forgive me for being repetitive — but when you’re reading how ingredients should be prepped, make sure you’re reading it literally. Any modifiers listed after the ingredient mean that you should measure it first, and then prep it. If it’s listed before, prep it, and then measure it.
Everyone’s kitchens and appliances are different, so when following a recipe, it’s important to consider the visual cues and stick to them. If after five minutes the piece of chicken you’re frying still doesn’t have that golden brown hue the recipe calls for, keep frying. Don’t just stop because the recipe also said it would take five minutes. Just remember: always trust visual cues over time.
Literary cues are weaved throughout a recipe as well, and it’s important to make note of them. Words like "meanwhile" or "preheat" are often signals to start something way before it's listed in the recipe, so be wary.
Lastly, Trust Your Gut
As unfortunate it is to say, some recipes are not tested to their fullest potential, so when following a recipe, it’s always good to follow your gut. Whether it is a technique, time, or temperature, make sure you’re using reason and not following the recipe to the literal letter of the law all of the time.
These tips will guide you through reading a recipe and lead to an even more successful and delicious meal. Happy cooking!
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce