Recipes, substitutions and the woes of an analytical cook.    Permalink

July 31st, 2012

I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m a bit of an etymology geek.

Did you know the word “receipt” is a synonym for recipe? You find the word a lot in older cookbooks. In fact, the word receipt actually started out in a pharmacological and culinary context first, before coming to mean an itemized list of purchase.

A pic of peppers for no good reason.

For juvenile chuckles, you may even find the word “apricocks” in old cook books.

I take issue with many negative comments and ratings of online recipes. Often, I’ll find a bad or mediocre rating that will say, “I didn’t have any X, so I substituted it with Y”.

Don’t make substitutions and expect the recipe to be good. Ever.

So it is with all of my heart that I tell you; follow the recipe to the letter.

At least the first time around.

Experimentation should come after experience. In the restaurant kitchen, we’re taught to follow orders strictly for most of our careers. This keeps consistency and predictability steady. If you deviate from a recipe, even slightly, it can mean disaster.

Broccoli and Asparagus are similar vegetables. They’re both part of the brassica family and can be substituted in many recipes. Substituting equally by weight, a cheddar broccoli soup makes for a pretty good cheddar asparagus soup. However, I dare you to make a substitution of asparagus for broccoli in a recipe containing wine. Odds are, it’ll taste metallic and less than appetizing.

If you follow directions long enough, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t; what ingredients are truly interchangeable and what aren’t. Research supplements this to some degree, but hard earned experience is how most cooks become chefs (where you are allowed to create, not just follow orders).

So I beg and plead—especially if you plan on rating a recipe—follow it to the letter the first time. If your recipe comes from a known, tested source, all the better.

Consider it building up a repertoire of knowledge, not stifling creativity.

And keep your receipts.

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