Joni Sare, cooking instructor

Using Cooking Methods versus Recipes

I used a combination of “searing” and “sauté” cooking method, not a recipe, to make this Seared Salmon with broccoli and zucchini.

My goal is to help you be autonomous in the kitchen — to make decisions easily and with certainty. And you can do that by using cooking methods (versus recipes), which also enables your creativity.

Once you know a cooking method you will be able to put the cookbooks away and create your own favorite dishes.

What’s your go-to cooking method? Share in the comments, below. When I cook for myself, I generally cook a one-pot meal and use a combination of steam, sear and saute. But I use broiling a lot, too (watch for that blog post). 

Two secrets to cooking without a recipe

The secret to being a good cook is to have an understanding of how food reacts to time and temperature. In other words, to have a basic understanding of the fundamentals of cooking science. A favorite author on this subject is Alton Brown and Harold McGee. I also enjoy reading the “why this recipe works” in Cook’s Illustrated magazine. 

Secret #1 — be familiar with cooking methods

Cooking without a recipe is cooking with a process. How is that accomplished? By using a method, such as searing, sauteing, braising, steaming, baking and roasting. Each of these have specific start and end points. The middle part is predicting an outcome.

Secret #2 — know the structure of food

The middle part is tricky because it’s based on the food you’re using — a salmon filet versus a salmon steak will react differently even though you’re using the same process. Sliced beets versus a whole beet, or thinly-sliced carrots versus wide-sliced carrots, or ground chicken versus a chicken spinach versus collard greens. With these examples you can use the same method, however, adjustments need to be made based on the texture and structure of the food.

I used a “roasting” cooking method versus a recipe to cook these veggies.

Types of cooking methods

Here are the cooking methods that I use most often. You’ll see a comprehensive list here on Wikipedia, and here on RecipeTips — with explanations.

On the stove top:

  1. Blanch
  2. Braise
  3. Fry
  4. Grill/BBQ
  5. Reduce
  6. Saute
  7. Sear
  8. Simmer
  9. Steam
  10. Stir fry
In the oven:
  1. Bake
  2. Braise
  3. Broil
  4. Dehydrate
  5. Microwave
  6. Roast
  7. Steam
On the counter, in the fridge and freezer:
  • Acidulate
  • Blend
  • Ferment
  • Freeze
  • Glaze
  • Juice
  • Marinate

Using recipes versus cooking methods

The benefit of using RECIPES

  • Created for you: no need to reinvent the wheel. You can see what other people are doing with specific ingredients, temperatures, length of time, etc.
  • Reliability: you have a safe bet that following their directions is going to work.
  • End goal: you know what the final outcome will look like.

The drawbacks of using RECIPES

  • Limiting: they are limiting because you get one dish. UNLESS you understand the principles of the recipe — the cooking method.
  • Leftover ingredients: that can spoil before using it up
  • Settings vary: the timing and heat settings will be slightly different for you than what is stated in recipes because you are using different equipment (the oven and stovetop, skillets and saucepans).

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