I'm a cooking journalist and here's why you shouldn't - always - follow a recipe

“Read the recipe carefully! » If Mercotte’s words still resonate in your head, but you prefer to do it your way, everything is fine! A recipe, advice, a list of ingredients are there to help you, to guide you, to allow you to reproduce the dish or cake in the photo identically. However, you should not feel “suffocated” by a recipe. If you want to take liberties, you must keep in mind the steps to follow and your level in the kitchen.

If you are a beginner

Cooking is like everything, it can be learned. You often have to read and reread recipes before making them, fail, and get back on track to integrate this knowledge and apply it naturally in your cooking. When the technique is learned, we offer ourselves more freedoms. You must also remember the basics of your recipe. For example, for a cake, you don’t change everything – the weight, the ingredients, and the cooking method – at the same time! We go step by step by transposing one spice with another, flour with a different, more typical one, vanilla with citrus zest, etc. When you want to take liberties in cooking or baking, you must not forget the direction and fundamentals of your recipe. For example, you do not change the cooking time or the temperature of your oven going from 45 min at 180°C to 20 min at 240°C, your cake risks not being cooked and being burned at the same time. Two birds with one stone !

If you are an expert

If you’ve been cooking for several years, you know that the framework of a recipe is a structure with broad guidelines to follow that you can have fun with. If you transpose ingredients, the important thing is not to change so-called dry elements for so-called liquid elements, otherwise you will change the structure of your cake or dish. You also have to learn to look at your dish, taste it, listen, check the textures. Cooking is a matter of “senses”. Of course, the important thing is the final tasting, but we must not minimize the work upstream. When you make browned butter, for example, it “sings” during cooking. When it has finished, in theory, the butter has reached the correct cooking point, which is also verified by smell since it gives off aromas of grilled dried fruits. When you reduce a sauce, you have to check its texture so that it is smooth and that the water has evaporated sufficiently by playing with the force of the fire. The famous “Maillard reaction” is a perfect application of this advice. If the recipe recommends browning your chicken for 3 minutes but after the allotted time the chicken does not have the desired color, you prolong the cooking or increase the heat, in doing so you take liberties with the recipe. A recipe is a series of tips, but in your kitchen, your pieces of meat may be larger or smaller, the same goes for the size of your eggs, etc. You must therefore constantly make adaptations between the written recipe and the reality of your refrigerator!

Cooking and baking are not banal school exercises where “by heart” takes precedence, they are changes of state, caramelizations, smells, infusions, reductions, which awaken our senses. More than a recipe to follow, it is our senses that must guide us in the kitchen. And when we listen to each other and trust each other, it often works perfectly. Cook’s word!

Happy cooking and happy holidays to you.

Discover the recipe for Duck Parmentier with sweet potato gratin with parmesan

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