How to Follow a Recipe

A New Series of Essential Advice, This Month from Cook and Author Tamar Adler

I used to follow recipes all the time, and I got good at it. Enough that over the years I found I needed recipes less and less. It started, though, with a strategy that was purely practical—not intended to get me off training wheels but to allow comfortable riding with them on.

First is to read the entire thing, start to finish, several times. This was tiresome at first, then became custom, and recently when I looked up a Thai curry after normally muddling ahead without instructions, I found it tiresome again. The point is that it’s like exercise: doing it often makes it easier. It is worth it because every recipe has its own language and its own starting and stopping points and its own intersections and intentions. Because there are measurements, temperatures, and cooking times—i.e., numbers—we often treat recipes like they’re math, which they decidedly are not. They’re small worlds or small stories, and one has to learn their geography and topography to navigate them.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Tamar Adler is a New York Times Magazine columnist, a contributor to Vogue magazine, and the author of An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. She is a former editor at Harper’s magazine, and a former cook at Chez Panisse.

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