Do You Follow Recipes When You Cook?
Plus, the science of creativity and using up bread
Sometimes I watch Barefoot Contessa when I can’t sleep. Ina Garten has had many different shows at this point, including one where she cooks with celebrity friends who are always as excited to meet her as she is to meet them, and one focused on entertaining. I love watching her cook in her gorgeous home and lush garden and I love seeing the joy she derives from creating meals for her loved ones. One thing that always strikes me is that Ina Garten measures her salt. Whether making a salad dressing or a chocolate tart, she is never without a set of measuring spoons to dip into her salt ramekin. Now, Ina’s recipes work and I’ve made many of them but it’s a very different approach than for example, Samin Nosrat, who dedicates 1/4 of her cookbook to understanding salt and its function in the cooking process (more on Samin below). Watching Samin’s Netflix show, which is filmed more like a travel show, is a different experience. Salt rains over a batch of pesto or a citrus salad. There’s no measuring implement in sight but I learned a lot from watching it.
Both Samin and Ina are telling a story with their salts. Ina talks about how she didn’t grow up cooking and turned to it later in life, eventually buying a specialty food store, The Barefoot Contessa. Especially with catering and commercial cooking, measuring is of the essence. Oversalted pastries can’t be sold and baking is in many ways a chemistry project. It’s interesting that decades later, after writing many cookbooks, she still keeps this practice and talks about how cooking is hard for her. I love her vulnerability there. Ina has talked about her recipe testing process—she likes to have someone who is not a frequent cook make her recipes and then will find out what was unclear. The salt measurement is for them and she wants it to be accurate. Samin’s concept for Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat was developed during her time at Chez Panisse—she realized these were the foundations of restaurant cooking that weren’t explained in any of the cookbooks she read. She also had to fight to get her book published because as she says “Brown people don’t get to write general cookbooks.”
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