AndyTalk: The Five Most Common Kitchen Mistakes, #4 Not Reading The Recipe

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See also: AndyTalk - Errant Knifery

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AndyTalk: The Five Most Common Kitchen Mistakes, Starting with Gray Meat

Everyone's done it. We start to cook after a quick look at the ingredient list. We heat the pan, and while it heats dice the onion. We add some oil and onion and start to sauté'. Then we turn off the burner so the onions won't burn and we shift into catch-up mode for the few cups of vegetables that should have been ready to follow the onions.

Some people cook with recipes and some without - the thing is, the people who get good food without written recipes are kinda, sorta cheating. I can say this with confidence because I rarely use a cookbook, but I have the recipes in my head. Sometimes they're in shorthand, and sometimes it's a formula that I've integrated. Either way - a recipe is being used. There's a sure-fire way to master almost any recipe and get the fastest-dinner-tonight.

Read the recipe. Twice. First read it fast, then immediately read it again slowly. This is worth the two and a half minutes it takes. Now you've crammed for the test to which your skillet puts you every night. We all do better with information that we've reviewed more than once.

As soon as you've had your second read pull your ingredients. All of them. Take five minutes to measure, slice, dice, seed, and put your ingredients in order. If two things (or seven things) go in the pot at the same time then put them in the same little bowl so that later on you automatically know they go into the pot together. Preheat your pan and as it heats put your ingredients near the pan. The item that goes in first should be closest to the pan, each subsequent item just a little farther from the pan. Now, you don't need the recipe. You know what goes in first, second, etc... You can actually have that glass of wine and make a new recipe that comes out well.

The three most common didn't-read-the-recipe mistakes:

  • Forgot to preheat the pan or oven, but started cooking anyway. By the time the oven was hot the bottom of the food burns because the bottom element in the oven runs at 100% while it's preheating - like a broiler. Black bottom chicken is not a delicacy
  • Putting unnecessary (or too much) stuff into the recipe. Just because it's on the counter doesn't mean it goes in the food. A woman once showed me some ground chicken for patties she was making. "I don't understand why it's so watery she said; it looks funny." "Hmm" I said, "what ingredients did you use?" "Just what was out" she said. "Really - can you tell me each item that went in?" Turns out that she added two cups of chicken stock and some water. "They were on the counter," she explained. Unfortunately those were for her sauce. Liquid chicken is not a good thing.
  • Adding ingredients in the wrong order. Onions first then garlic. Onions are bigger and need more time. Onions need the pan to themselves to caramelize and brown. Give them some time alone in the pan and your food will be better.

For anyone who has ever assembled a mail-order gadget without using the instructions; think about the little plastic part you cracked. A recipe is a set of instructions for getting the most out of your ingredients. It's there to help as much or as little as you'd like.

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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