Recipes - are you for them or against them?

16th Aug 18 | Lifestyle

We assess the value of following a recipe.

Woman following a recipe in book

You might have shelves filled with cookbooks you’ve never opened, have one collection that comes out every night and is splattered with sauce, or your phone is embedded with flour because you’re obsessed with following recipes off Google.

Alternatively, everything you cook might come direct from your head – no step-by-step instructions needed.

Either way, the role of recipes – and whether they’re helpful or not, and whether you should follow them religiously – is an interesting one. Here are the arguments for and against…

For recipes…

They are super helpful if you’re a total kitchen novice and have no idea where to start. If you’ve never been taught how to fry an egg or make spaghetti bolognese and don’t have a real life human to show you, a recipe is a lifesaver.

If you are a seasoned foodie, flipping through cookery books can provide loads of inspiration, even if you don’t end up following any particular one. Just don’t read them while eating something bland, it’ll only give you food envy.

Cooking can be stressful, following step-by-step instructions can take the pressure off. It puts you in someone else’s capable hands, you just have to make sure you don’t miss a step.

Recipes push you to learn new skills and techniques, even if you don’t realise it. With every step, you’re absorbing knowledge, whether it’s how long to cook pasta for so it’s al dente, or how to slice a steak against the grain to make it more tender.

They give you the building blocks to be more culinarily creative. If you start off with recipes, increase your knowledge and get the basics down, it makes things easier when you have to use what’s in the fridge alone.

You can’t bake cakes any other way. Baking is science – if there’s no methodology to follow, your cake is going to be a disaster.

They’re full of stories and history – it’s not just about following a series of instructions. Really, you’re following in another person’s footsteps.

Against recipes…

It’s like being told what to do. You are trapped by the chef and their way of doing things – what if you want to go off-piste?! Can you risk it?

Recipes often require really obscure ingredients in really tiny quantities, that you’ll never use again. They just end up sitting gathering dust and attracting guilt from the depths of the cupboard.

They all use different measuring methods – how many grams is even in a cup?!

Many recipes assume a level of knowledge or understanding, that you might not have. Or they’ll expect you to own certain implements (ice cream churners, electric mixers, mandolins) and be au fait with particular culinary terms (brunoise? Julienne? Sauté? Braise?), and that can be incredibly frustrating as you have to Google everything before you even start chopping.

Every dish takes at least 20% longer to complete than the recipe says it will, guaranteed. And that rises to 50% if you’ve never attempted it before.

It’s fun to make stuff up as you go along. Opening the fridge, seeing what you’ve got and concocting a dinner as though you’re on Ready Steady Cook is part of the joy of being in the kitchen. That creativity is thoroughly stifled if you’re following a recipe by rote.

It’s easy to feel as though you’re just copying a recipe, rather than learning it, meaning every time you want to return to a dish, you have to remember which cookbook to dig it out of.

Not every recipe comes with a picture, so depending on what you’re making, sometimes you have no idea what you’re meant to be aiming for.

© Press Association 2018