Healthy Cooking How-Tos with Barbara Seelig-Brown: How to Read a Recipe
Build confidence in the kitchen with Barbara’s gold standard guidelines for reading recipes
Are you sometimes confused or intimidated by the way a recipe is written? Do things come out differently than you expected? As a professional recipe developer I follow certain guidelines—the gold standards, if you will—for writing recipes. My goal is to make my recipes as clear as possible so that home cooks will actually enjoy cooking and do it more often.
One thing I emphasize to my readers and students is that there are many variables in a recipe. Variables can be things like interpretation, pan size, type of pan, type of stove, ingredient quality, atmosphere, and so much more. If a recipe does not turn out perfectly, it is not necessarily your fault. It could be the result of one of the variables. Since our stoves, equipment, and ingredient quality can vary greatly, recipes should include descriptors such as: "cook chicken breast 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown on each side." Perhaps the recipe developer had a gas stove and yours is electric. The timing will vary greatly but the end result can still be similar by noting the descriptor—golden brown. Is the quality of the recipe developer's pan and your pan identical? It is highly unlikely that we all have the same supplies or equipment in our kitchens.
Ingredients should be listed in the order in which they are added in the preparation or cooking method, so if the recipe is done right, you should know when you'll need something in the process.
Most importantly, remember that mise en place is your best friend! This means reading the recipe thoroughly and performing all necessary prep before turning on the stove, mixer, or food processor. Essentially, you're getting everything in place. If the recipe prep calls for pounded chicken or sliced mushrooms, do it as part of the mise en place. Measure the stock, peel the garlic, chop the onions, and zest the lemon. Does the recipe call for ingredients at room temperature? This can take 20–30 minutes once removed from the refrigerator. Does something need to be defrosted? If it's still in the freezer when you need it thawed, you could have a problem. Mise en place will help guide you through the cooking process. For instance, sautéing garlic takes only minutes but pounding the chicken breast can take much longer. The pounding should be done before the garlic hits the pan, to avoid scorching the garlic.
User Guidelines for Reading Recipes
- Always read a recipe in its entirety before starting the cooking process
- Be sure that you have all ingredients on hand
- Be sure that you understand all the techniques and terms in the recipe
- Prepare ingredients mise en place
- Look for descriptors
- Trust your judgment
- Don't be intimidated
- Have fun!
Sharpen your heart-healthy culinary skills with healthy how-tos and over 80 delicious recipes in Secrets of Healthy Cooking: A Guide to Simplifying the Art of Heart Healthy and Diabetic Cooking.