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
On the stove top:
- Stir fry
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).