I love to cook, but I’m not terribly confident when it comes to just winging it in the kitchen. I prefer to follow a recipe, at least the first time around. Just about anyone who has ever cooked from a recipe has encountered the following maddening situations:
- The ingredients list calls for “1 cup chopped onion” and it’s still sitting there on the counter after you’ve put the casserole in the oven. The method (instructions) never said when to add it!
- The method says, “Pour in the wine and deglaze the pan,” but the ingredients list doesn’t call for wine! What kind? How much?
This should be considered the cardinal rule of all recipes:
Every item that appears in the ingredients list must be used in the method. Every ingredient used in the method must appear in the ingredients list.
This may seem pretty obvious, but I frequently find problems with the ingredients list when I’m editing cookbooks.
In addition to including every ingredient that will be needed, a properly edited recipe will list the ingredients in the order they will be used. This saves the reader from having to hunt through the list to find each ingredient as it’s called for.
Sometimes it makes sense to divide a long ingredients list into separate sections with subheads like “Pie Crust” and “Filling.” This is especially helpful when a recipe calls for the same ingredient in different parts—like a stir-fry recipe where the marinade and the sauce contain various amounts of soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic.
Dividing the ingredients list up in this way also simplifies the method: If the ingredients list has a “Salad Dressing” section, the corresponding step of the method can simply say, “In a small bowl, whisk together all the salad dressing ingredients.”
If you’re not using subheads (some recipes don’t lend themselves to dividing up the ingredients list), avoid having steps in the method that say something like “Add the next seven ingredients” or “Add all the ingredients except the basil and the Parmesan cheese.” This opens up too much opportunity for user error. It’s best to name each ingredient that will be added at that time.
A recipe must also include recommended cooking vessel, stovetop or oven temperature, timing, doneness cues, and more.
If a recipe is missing even a single crucial piece of information, the result can be a huge disappointment. Readers are not likely to try a recipe again (and may even mistrust the whole book) if they’ve wasted their afternoon in the kitchen (and their paycheck at the supermarket) and still ended up ordering take-out!