Recipe 'deal breakers': quit complaining and just cook

With the recent firestorm surrounding Kim Severson’s "Recipe Deal Breakers: When Step 2 Is 'Corral Pig,'" I was ready to hate the article. I was ready to cast Severson as a lazy whiner and rail against her unwillingness to go the extra mile, but it’s not as bad as all that because at one point she describes Melissa Steineger’s realization,

[The recipes from Coyote Café cookbook] went unmade until her cooking skills improved and she had an epiphany: she could substitute.

"That freed me," she said.

As cooks--as people, one of our most valuable skills is critical thinking. It’s what enabled us to survive when we realized the old spears didn’t work against mammoths. Something must be wrong. Let me think about this and figure out what’s next. It’s what spurred the invention of the atlatl, and it’s what enables a cook to substitute bacon for pancetta. Is it going to taste exactly the same? No, probably not. Will it taste close enough for most people? Yes, I imagine it would.

This is one of the wonderful things about learning to cook. Anyone can follow a recipe to the letter. It’s one of the reasons baking is so popular. "Just tell me exactly what to do, and I’ll make it happen." Baking recipes are precise, and if you follow them, you will end up with something that has a flavor and texture just like the real things. Unless you’re trying to bake at high altitude or in very low or very high humidity. But cooking--good cooking relies on, among other things, the cook’s ability to think fast, to make changes and adapt as the need arises. Scared by "serves 18"? Divide everything by three and the recipe will serve six. Keep the leftovers for lunch. If a recipe calls for julienned carrots and you don’t have the time, inclination or skills to do a good job? Give it a go anyway. No one ever learned anything by not trying.

What really struck me as pathetic were the comments people left. Refusing to cook food you don't like doesn't mean the recipe is too difficult or "too fussy" to make. It just means you don't like certain foods or have made choices about what you'll eat. People who wrote things like, "Butter" completely missed the point (and should be kicked out of the kitchen). And "meanwhile" as a deal breaker? How does this person get anything done? While waiting for the laundry to dry, does she sit and stare at the wall? I also don’t understand people who shy away from words like, "just" or "quickly." It’s food on fire. Pay attention to it if you have to. And if it all goes to shit? Think about what went wrong and don’t do that next time. Then order a pizza.

1 comment:

James said...

Great post. I agree with you completely. If people don't want to cook, just admit it. Just be honest. Don't whine with excuses.

Some of these folks ... "if I can't make it in one day I won't" ... wow. Guess they're never going to make properly barbecued brisket (14+ hours in a smoker plus prep and brine time) or the latest chocolate cookies from the NYT (36 hours of fridge time).

Where I live (Tacloban, Leyte, Philippines), nearly every recipe has a potential deal-breaker. That's what I find actually fun ... the challenge of figuring out what I can use to create or substitute to make a recipe.

There are many things that I used to take for granted that I'd buy at the store (tortillas and sour cream are two excellent examples) that I now must make from scratch if I want them.

It's a blast!