“What’s so uncool about measuring?” food historian Laura Shapiro asked in The Atlantic last week. It was a question aimed at The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes, a new cookbook by Sam Sifton that aims to show us all how “Cooking’s not difficult. It’s just a practice.” (Direct quote from a passage about how to cook teriyaki salmon.) In her review of the cookbook, aptly titled “When Dif Following Recipes Become a Personal Failure?”, Shapiro admits that Sifton’s no-recipe approach to cooking—you don’t need pesky measurements and precise steps, because cooking is all about FEELING, just like jazz!—is appealing and aspirational, no question, but nonetheless, there is a large contingent of readers who won’t like this approach and needn’t try to embrace it. Home cooks shouldn’t consider their desire to follow a recipe some sort of shortcoming; after all, if we were all gifted divine cooking inspiration all the time, well, there goes the cookbook industry.
“Some cooks will be delighted to know that they can jettison all those fussy details,” Shapiro writes, “But others cling to those very details. We cook from scratch doggedly, on principle. It’s a chore for us, not a romp, but it’s the only affordable way to eat well and avoid total domination by the food industry.” Preach. I am firmly in this latter camp, because while I love to get lost in a crossword puzzle or let my mind wander on a nice walk, I get stressed out in the kitchen if I don’t have guidelines keeping me focused on the task at hand. Give me the precise recipe, and I’ll decide how much I stray from it, thank you very much.
Where do you land on this spectrum of home cookery? Do you like double-checking your measurements, or letting the olive oil flow like water? Will you be purchasing a copy of Sam Sifton’s new book, or sticking to your tried-and-true classics?