Z2C #4: How to Learn to Cook Using Recipes –...

Z2C #4: How to Learn to Cook Using Recipes – Compare and Contrast

When I shop at the market, I have a quasi compulsive need to check out as many vendors as possible before making my purchases. I want to be sure that I am selecting the best quality at the best price, and so I need to know what all my options are. For most things, this process has been highly simplified by the internet. In seconds, you can pull up myriad versions of the same product, at a variety of price points.

While finding a recipe isn’t exactly shopping, I definitely recommend “shopping” around for the right recipe before you commit. Whenever I set out to cook a new dish, I examine as many recipes as I can get my hands on before I start. There are many factors to keep in mind when picking out the right recipe for your dinner circumstances, but when we are in reading mode, there are different things to look for.

Pick a dish, maybe something you have wanted to make for a while but always through was out of your reach, or something you make all the time. It can be a salad or a baked item, gelato or meat loaf, whatever strikes your fancy right now. Just make sure it isn’t too simple in terms of ingredients or steps, because we will need some basis for comparison.

Using your search engine of choice, find five to ten iterations of this recipe. Start by comparing the ingredient lists and finding the common denominators. If the recipes are all quite similar, you might need to add some more to the mix or find a different, more adaptable dish. I was recently trying to create a new recipe for mahi mahi burgers, and for inspiration, I looked up all the different sauces that I could find that people had thought to pair mahi mahi with.

After looking at what is the same, look at where the differences stem from. Do some recipes use hard to find ingredients? Try to figure out what substitutions have been made in other recipes to make them more accessible. If this isn’t clear from the ingredient list, you may find it used in a similar step in the recipe.

Now move on to the meat of the recipe – the steps. Again look at what is the same and where the differences lie. I often find that in simpler recipes (those that usually have both fewer steps and fewer ingredients) certain steps are skipped almost completely or a pre-prepared ingredient is used instead. For instance, I sometimes fry the peanuts myself when making Balinese peanut sauce, but when I don’t have the time or stovetop space, I buy pre-roasted.

With all of that analysis, jot down your own composite recipe. Make sure to include the ingredients and methods that you found to be common throughout most of the versions you looked at, because if everyone is doing it (in cooking at least), they are probably all doing it the same way for a reason. Simplify or don’t so that your recipe is adapted for your cooking level and the time you have available to make the dish, based on the different levels of simplifications you observed. And throw in anything that you saw and enjoyed – the whole point of looking at new recipes is to find inspiration.

And voila! – your now have your own personalized recipe.