How to Cook A Recipe
Have you ever thought about the importance of recipes? When I started The Reluctant Gourmet web site years ago, it was more about teaching cooking techniques than posting a lot of recipes. It is my belief that if you learn a number of basic cooking techniques, you'll be able to prepare hundreds of recipes.
For example, if I show you how to saute a boneless skinless chicken breast properly, you can make dozens of different dishes just by adding different ingredients when making pan sauces. The cooking technique is the same but the flavors you add will be different.
I'm not saying that recipes aren't important, they are great for ideas and are especially important when you are first learning how to cook but they are not the end-all.
There are some chefs I've met who insist you follow recipes exactly, word for word. They don't want you to substitute ingredients, cooking methods, or cooking times. But last week I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Todd Mohr who looks at recipes very much like I do.
Chef Todd, believes learning basic cooking methods "transcends the written recipe and allows a home cook to be free to create their own dishes." In fact he has produced a short video that I would like to share with you just on this subject.
Chef Todd and I spoke last week and talked about our personal cooking philosophies and came to realize how much they were alike. I just posted an interview with chef Todd that talks about his experiences at culinary school, then working for the NSA and cooking for 15,000 people, to starting his own catering business and cooking school in Cary, NC.
In the interview, Chef Todd tells us why he thinks cooking is an art form and why a recipe is one persons opinion of how to create a dish, but not the only way. I ask him about mistakes home cooks make and how they can correct them, how to get out of a cooking rut, what cookbooks he recommends, and how to get over any fear of cooking.
It's a great interview especially if you are considering changing careers like Chef Todd did and thinking of going to culinary school. He talks about what someone might consider before signing up for culinary school and at the end of the interview cautions readers about the romantic aspect of becoming a chef.
Below is one of Chef Todd's cooking videos, in fact it is his very first one, called Burn Your Recipes. I think you will find it both informative and amusing and I will be posting more videos throughout my site. In fact, I just posted one for Roasting Red Peppers here.
In the video, Todd starts off by cooking a recipe, literally, and then goes on to explain why recipes sometimes keep us from following our own "artistic interpretations." He believes you can apply "basic cooking methods" and "demystify recipes" very much in line with my own personal cooking philosophy.
Let me know what you think below.
Actually, I think what he says is common sense and is something that was widely known by our grandparents. Their recipe books are almost cryptic as compared to ours today. Perhaps that is why I tend to gravitate towards cookbooks which have no pictures. A good example for me of this last point is Annie Bell's Evergreen. I would like to know though, what is his recipe for maintaining his energy levels!
Recipes are how the elements of a dish are transferred from one cook to the next. As such they are very valuable from both a current and an historical value. I think the real issue is how rigidly individuals feel that they must follow a recipe as a set of rules that cannot be broken. If you develop your cooking skills sufficiently, it will only require the hint of a recipe to create worthwhile dishes (although the dish will be yours and not a duplication of someone elseâ€™s unless you follow their prescription rigorously). Many people fall into a trap where they feel they can only cook if they have a recipe to follow, this is unfortunate. But conversely, when I'm trying to recreate a dish from the past, following a recipe is very important.
Following a recipe for beginners who wish to practice cooking it's very important, but after learning the basic cooking methods you can opt to follow or not to. I believe, a chef should always be creative by coming up with new and unique recipes.