Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Use Your Initiative: Recipes Work Best When They Are Guides, Rather Than Rigid Instructions, Writes Nicholas Clee

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Use Your Initiative: Recipes Work Best When They Are Guides, Rather Than Rigid Instructions, Writes Nicholas Clee

Article excerpt

There was a classic example of the kind of unfeasible recipe I wrote about in my last column (26 March) in a recent feature in the Guardian where Allegra McEvedy offered dishes "to spice up your life". One was a Moroccan chicken tagine, advertised as taking 35 minutes to prepare and cook. By the time you got to the instructions and saw that the timings added up to 40 minutes, you already knew that the schedule was impossible. Your eye had scanned 19 ingredients. Nine required chopping. Among them were a chilli, to be deseeded as well, and a swede--chopping which is a significant and hazardous undertaking, I find. I reckon I'd be pushed to be ready to start cooking this dish in 35 minutes, let alone have it on the table.

Trying to make such a lengthy recipe fit the theme of everyday cooking was obviously wishful thinking. Recipe writers do not want to daunt us, and always err on the side of making procedures appear simpler and quicker than they really are. We have an insatiable appetite for recipes, the vast majority of which we will never attempt. Briefly, the words in the glossy cookbook or magazine cause us to imagine ourselves recreating a taste of Tangier, before the gap between the recipe and our usual experiences in the kitchen causes us to move on.

It is easy for me to carp. I do not have to write recipes to fulfil what the market wants: instructions that are precise yet straightforward, simple yet distinctive. …

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