Chef Weiner offers a solid primer to print out and provide to students, ensuring they’ll understand a recipe fully and be on the look-out for pitfalls before they begin to gather their mise en place.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
Last month I stressed the importance of not limiting your students to simply learning how to follow recipes or how to cook by technique only. Students need to learn both skill sets. As I mentioned last month, it is important to follow recipes in a commercial kitchen to ensure that no matter when a customer orders something, it will always taste the same, be the same size, and the food costs for each plate will be the same.
The following is what students need to learn about reading and writing recipes. Feel free to copy it and give it to your students. However, you might want to remove the “Note for Instructors” below if you want to use that little trick on your students.
A. There Are 7 Parts to a Good Commercial Recipe
- A workable name. “Kevin’s Bamboozle” doesn’t tell anything about the dish. “Shrimp scampi with linguini” lets everyone know what he or she will be preparing
- The number of servings and the size of each serving.
- The exact amount of each ingredient to be used.
- A description of any special equipment needed. For example: a hotel pan, a 9-inch spring-form pan, a convection oven heated to 325 degrees, etc.
- Straightforward directions using standard culinary terms.
- The time needed to prepare the dish from start to finish and, if necessary, the time should be broken down into the prep time, inactive time and cooking time. For example, a recipe for marinated skirt steak might take 10 minutes to prep, four hours marinade time (inactive time) and 15 minutes cook time for a total of four hours, 25 minutes.
- Finally, many restaurants and dining facilities will specify how the item should be plated and have instructions on how to safely hold the food at the proper temperature and provide information on storage and shelf life.
B. Everyone Should Read a New Recipe Three Times
- When someone gives you a new recipe, don’t just start preparing it. Don’t start working at the top and work your way down.
- If possible, make a copy of the recipe so you can write on it. Check with the boss or chef first: Some places are against copying recipes.
- Find a quiet place to read the recipe away from your work station (so you won’t be tempted to start your prepping immediately.)
- Read the recipe the first time from top to bottom to get a feel for the recipe. Picture in your mind how the dish will look when it is done and plated or displayed.
- Read it again, slowly. Do you know how to do everything in the recipe? If not, ask. Don’t fake any of the steps (which will waste time and ingredients). Speaking of ingredients, do you have everything you need? If you are not 100% sure, then don’t start anything until you check. If in doubt, ask the boss or chef. You don’t want to separate 40 eggs only to find out that you don’t have cream of tartar. In this second reading, determine if there are any traps in the recipe. For example: Marinate for four hours, soak the beans overnight, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, etc.
- Now, read the recipe a third time to be sure that you have everything under control. Then, and only then, do you go to your work area and start getting all of your equipment and ingredients together.
(Note for Instructors: I warn my students that at least three or four times a month I will give them a recipe where they don’t know a technique or the required ingredients are not in the kitchen. I explain to them that if they follow the above six steps they should be back to me within 10 minutes saying something like “We couldn’t find the crab meat” or “How do you chiffonade basil?” If they come back within 10 minutes, they get a high grade. If they come back about 40 minutes later and say, “Okay Chef, we did everything, but where is the caviar?” they get a low score since they failed to determine that we didn’t have caviar in checking their ingredients.
C. Scaling Recipes for Different Quantities
- If you need to make the recipe in different proportions (double, triple, one-half, etc.) the best thing to do is make a copy of the recipe (again, check with the chef or boss first) and then do the math ahead of time in writing on the recipe. Cross out the amount of each ingredient in the original recipe, and write in the new amount. Never try to keep track of the changes in your head. You will get distracted somewhere and end up not using the right portion of at least one ingredient.
- Ask the chef about cooking times, temperatures, specific pans, etc., when changing the scale of a recipe. A 20-pound turkey probably won’t take twice as long as a 10-pound turkey. Likewise, if a full recipe calls for a 350-degree oven, you wouldn’t cut the oven to 175 for half a recipe. Doubling a recipe using a 13 x 9 pan may require two pans, or you may be able to use one of something else.
D. Don’t Mess with Baking Recipes
Never play with baking recipes until you have a LOT of experience. Bakers don’t even call them recipes; they call them formulas. The first chef I ever worked with taught me: “Cooking is a mistake, baking is science.”
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.