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Vague terms in recipes


Ce'nedra
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The thing I was trying to get across is that perhaps they are vague on purpose. Cooks have measured by instinct and approximation since forever. Maybe a few fractions of an inch or a mm or two doesn't really matter.

For many dishes in numerous situations you're right. But, if the size of the cut adds something to a dish, such as maintaining a certain texture, or appearance, then the size may matter. It could also matter for cooking time.

Just a couple of quick thoughts.

 ... Shel


 

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One cookbook that is particularly bad for this is David Thompson's Thai Food. [...] Why can't you just say a recipe is for 4oz of noodles, rather than "a good handful"? My interpretation of some of his ingredient descriptions has resulted in a sub-par product more than once.

Long ago I learned that hands are of different sizes <LOL>. My GF's hand and my hand can hold substantially different amounts.

Is Thompson a big guy, small, tiny? How big are his hands?

OTOH, many early recipes that I have don't define ingredient amounts very precisely. When did precision start showing up in recipes?

 ... Shel


 

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Personally, I love David Thompson for his "vagueness" - his recipes encourage experimentation and urge you to use your senses - especially your sense of smell and taste - Thai food requires endless rebalancing of seasoning to keep the bold flavors balanced and in check with one another. That doesn't make it the ideal cookbook for a beginner.

This. I was just talking about how much I love his recipes ending with "this should taste salty, sour, sweet, hot." It seems sort of strange that more authors don't tell you what the food should taste like...

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This discussion reminds me of my sainted great-aunt, who left behind several notebooks full of recipes that were simply lists of ingredients with perhaps a note or two along the lines of "better with small onions" or "liver should be very fresh." Fine if you've made the dish a hundred times, useless if you've never made it before, inviting disaster if you've never tasted it.

That's an extreme case, but I think the principles apply across the board. Obviously some degree of latitude is necessary because of ingredient variation but a recipe should at least put you in the ballpark, and most cookbook recipes do this by using specialized meanings of words that an experienced cook will immediately understand - this is what the OP is talking about, the range of sizes that make a "small" saucepan, the difference between a "fine" and a "coarse" chop and so on.

I don't think there's anything wrong with specifying one medium onion, and I don't think there's anything wrong with asking what a medium onion weights, either.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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The word recipe originally was spelled receipt because the lady who was more or less illiterate would go to the grocer and tell him what she needed. He wrote it down and gave her the items and the receipt. It was just a list of ingredients. ladies passed on recipes with amounts like butter the size of an egg, a pinch of salt or a handful of flour. Over time measures were standardized so that one knew that a tablespoon was half an ounce and that a wineglassfull was a couple of ounces. As time went on and up to the modern day, ways of communicating and measuring have become more sophisticated and precise. It is too bad that some recipes don't work any more because the manufacturer changed the formula for pudding and then changed the amount in a package. Those of us who like to cook have to make do with best guesses sometimes but accuracy is always preferred.

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Reminds me of someone who said that she hadn't realised how much you had to know of the vocabulary of anything you were doing. She gave cooking lessons, and in front of the class said, 'First, separate the eggs.' Someone in front of her looked puzzled, and then with a huge smile, indicating that he'd finally figured it out, moved one egg away from the other. It was the idea of the beaming face that really got to me. He was so certain that he'd sussed this one.

But why not? He'd separated the eggs, after all.

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All recipes are sets of instructions; some sets of instructions are more open to interpretation than others.

If the dichotomy were true people who want to "learn how to cook" instead of "learning to follow rules" would be told to discard recipes.

If, on the other hand, the dichotomy were false and knowing how to follow recipes was part of knowing how to cook then asking what a "julienne" is would be a perfectly valid question. And the sort of question this thread used to be about.

EDIT: Do you want to learn to play chess, or do you want to learn the rules?

Edited by Dakki (log)

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I suspect we can agree that cooking is not like chess.

I realize that I was deliberately being provocative in that post - but if you go back to my original post about Child and David, I think my point stands. Personally, I tend to be a recipe-follower instinctively, and I need the kick in the butt that writers like Thompson and David give me to make me rely on my own senses and intuition.

There's room for both approaches - it's not a dichotomy.

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Small would be 2 quarts or smaller, Medium would be 2 to 4 quarts, and large would be 4 and above. It's definitely subjective but that's what I go buy generally.

Chop is a rough cut, 1/4" to 1/8" pieces, dice is a little finer being 1/8" to 1/16", and mince would be the finest or smallest at 1/16" or less.

The different sizes of "fine, medium, and rough or coarse chop or dice" would depend on the former measurements I gave you.

And matchstick-sized pieces are matchstick-sized pieces: about 1/16" by 1/16" by 1"

Most of this response is mumbo jumbo.

A dice is a cube. A large dice is 3/4". A medium dice is 1/2". A small dice is 1/4". A brunoise is 1/8". A fine brunoise is 1/16".

"Mince" and "chop" have no numerical parameters. Mince would be comparable to a brunoise. Chop is a dumb word and is never used in professional kitchens. And matchstick sized pieces are basically a julienne, which is 1/8" x 1/8" by 1-2". Don't take my word for it though, I only work in a 3 star Michelin restaurant.

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