Why You Should Follow the Recipe

Good morning. I spend a lot of time telling you recipes don’t matter. I know that if you’re cooking a lot and you’re confident and you understand triangulations of sweet, salt, acid and heat that you don’t even need recipes, just prompts. We call those prompts no-recipe recipes, and in a couple of months you’ll see them collected in an exciting new cookbook (pre-order today!). Improvisational cooking can be a blast.

But my going on about that every week doesn’t mean that recipes aren’t important, doesn’t mean that they don’t tell particular stories, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever follow them exactly when you cook. That’s the argument of our Genevieve Ko, anyway, who has made a resolution to do just that this year: “to follow recipes exactly as written,” she wrote for The Times this week, “to get to know their creators without altering the dishes to match my own experiences or tastes.”

This is an exciting way to cook, as it happens, a chance really to learn new flavors and techniques, not just to approximate them. “The more nuanced reward,” Genevieve continues, “is challenging my culinary framework, to keep moving toward a more expansive and equitable worldview. And my hope is that this form of cooking with empathy, if enough people adopt it, can lead to greater unity and understanding even beyond the kitchen.”

I think that’s right. I know I’ll keep cooking without recipes sometimes. But when I do cook with them this year, I’m going to try to follow Genevieve’s lead. Won’t you join us?

Genevieve suggests you give it a shot with carne con chile rojo, with dulce de leche chocoflan, with coconut chicken curry.

I’ll add Yewande Komolafe’s recipe for jollof rice, and Vallery Lomas’s recipe for shrimp Creole (above), and Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe for an eggplant, lamb and yogurt casserole. Make Gabrielle Hamilton’s cold candied oranges as if you were building a model airplane. You’ll experience the cooking differently than if you simply shrugged and omitted ingredients or changed how you use them according to experience or whim. Walk in the shoes of the recipe’s creator. You’ll learn something every time.

Other recipes to follow exactly this week or very soon: coconut curry chicken noodle soup; mapo tofu spaghetti; vegan mushroom and leek rolls; the greenest green salad; salmon with sesame and herbs.

And there are thousands more waiting for you on NYT Cooking. Go look around the site and apps and see what you discover: Pierre Franey’s linguine with lemon sauce, say, or David Tanis’s spicy meatballs with chickpeas. You can save the recipes you like. And rate the ones you’ve made.

(Yes, you need to be a subscriber to do that. Subscriptions are the lifeblood of NYT Cooking. They support the work that we love to do. Please, if you are able, I hope you will subscribe to NYT Cooking today.)

We will meanwhile be standing by to help, should anything go sideways in your kitchen or our technology. Just send up a flare: c[email protected]. Someone will get back to you, I promise.

Now, it’s nothing to do with quinces or duck breasts, but if you’re in the market for new subscriptions, Rusty Foster’s “Today in Tabs” has returned, on Substack. And Jim Knipfel, with whom I worked at NYPress back when that newspaper was in the downtown trenches fighting the good fight against the Village Voice, has brought his “Slackjaw” column back, on Patreon.

James Wood on Beethoven in the London Review of Books is very good.

So, too, is this conversation between Gilbert Cruz, the culture editor of The Times, and Jon Caramanica, a pop music critic.

Finally, you should spend some time with this Times article about the pandemic experiences of essential workers on the American food supply chain, with interviews by Mahira Rivers, Rachel Wharton and Aidan Gardiner. It’s revealing. Do that and I’ll be back on Friday.

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Every year is marked by the unique food trends that take on lives of their own. In 2020, things like sourdough bread and Dalgona coffee had their time to shine and there’s no doubt 2021 will be full of all new viral recipes and food products. Personally, I predict an […]
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