New recipes can pose a challenge to even the most experienced chefs, but these ten tips will help you approach a new recipe right, and get great results on the first try.
As anyone who’s tried to expand their kitchen repertoire knows, new food concoctions can leave you feeling hassled or stressed in the kitchen as you juggle unfamiliar techniques and routines.
However, with a little bit of strategy, you can eliminate the tension of trying new techniques and cooking from scratch, and coast easily to the finish line of mastering a brand new dish.
From smart planning to disaster fixes, read on for ten tips that will make cooking with new ingredients or methods a breeze.
Clean Your Kitchen
Cleaning your kitchen before trying a new recipe can mean the difference between a frenzied, stress-filled evening and a calm, relaxed cooking experience.
The more counter space you have, the easier it will be to move smoothly through the space as you tackle the different steps and stages of your new recipe. Plus, the less visual clutter is in the kitchen, the less likely you are to miss something you’ve set down, or forget to add an ingredient that’s sitting on the counter.
Copy It Over
One of the challenges of new recipes is that no matter how closely you read them, it’s all too easy to miss a crucial fact.
To avoid common mistakes, like forgetting to preheat the oven, or discovering midway through that you need a piece of kitchen equipment you don’t own, it’s a good idea to copy new recipes out of your cookbook longhand.
When you have to write out every word, there’s no chance you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by an unexpected technique or the need for an unusual kitchen tool midway through cooking! Plus, copying out longhand provides you with an excellent opportunity to plan your time, and your space, as you go.
Plan Your Time
Writing out a time table for the different cooking steps makes new recipes easy to follow, and helps reduce the chance that you’ll burn or scorch anything, or that you’ll end up rushing things to the table in order to have dinner at a reasonable hour.
When you can just glance at the clock and then at your timetable to know what you’re meant to be doing, you’ll be able to get a new recipe to the table by dinnertime without stress.
Plan A Break
As you make your timetable, try to set aside five minutes of no activity during your cooking period. It’s okay to have something simmering on the stove or baking in the oven, but it’s a great idea to take a few moments of personal time during the adventure. That way, you can catch your breath, and catch up if you’re behind schedule.
Plan Your Space
As you’re breaking your new recipe down by time, assign each stage of the process a specific area of the kitchen. That way, you can plan ahead and make sure the tools you need for each step are within arm’s reach of where you’ll be doing a task. Take inspiration from television chefs like Alton Brown who performs each “stage” in a different part of the kitchen for easy filming; this technique keeps you moving smoothly as you cook.
Brainstorm A Backup
When you look at a new recipe, try to brainstorm a worst-case-scenario back up plan that will let you use part or all of the work you’ve done to build a new dish.
If your stew fails, can it find new life as a lasagna? If your popovers don’t puff, can you re-purpose them as a dessert base?
If you’ve got a backup plan that will let you deliver a hot meal to the table no matter what, you’ll be able to work your way through even the most challenging new recipes with the security of a safety net.
Soup in particular can be a great opportunity to transform part or all of a failed experiment into a delicious dish, so think about getting out your stockpot if all does not go well.
Looking up photographs of the techniques you’ll be attempting can help you achieve perfect results. If you’ll be learning more than one new cooking technique, it can be a good idea to print out images or detailed directions for each one and leave it in the area of the kitchen where you’re planning to do that task.
Mise en Place
“Mise en Place” simply means setting out all of your prepared ingredients before you turn on the heat or set any time-based cooking processes in motion. So, wash, peel, chop, and measure everything before you get started.
Although it can save time to multitask by doing things like chopping one ingredient while another is simmering, when you’re working with new recipes it’s a lot easier to front-load all of your prep work so that as you’re cooking, you’ll be ready to simply grab the next ingredient and throw it effortlessly into the pan.
Once you’ve got the rhythym of a dish, you can figure out how to streamline it for efficiency, but if you’re working with a new recipe, you need all the ease of cooking you can get, so do your ingredient prep in advance.
Keep It Quiet
One of the most troubling aspects of trying out new recipes often has to do with meeting expectations. To reduce any tension surrounding this, keep your new dish a surprise! Your lucky dinnertime companions will be pleasantly amazed by your ever-expanding culinary repertoire, but you won’t have to contend with meeting the expectations that your dish will be exactly what they expected when you describe the new cuisine to the people who will be eating it.
For example, with surprise on your side, it’s easy to rename something that you burnt as “carmelized,” and have everybody think you made the new dish correctly, even when you didn’t!
Invite A Friend
Cooking new recipes is even more fun when you have someone to share your culinary adventure with. If you’ve never made a particular dish before, try to find someone in your social circle who has some experience with the food, or with the cuisine tradition that it comes from, and invite them over to help you make (and eat!) the meal.
A new recipe goes a lot more smoothly if you can learn the tricks and quirks of the techniques from somebody who knows them inside and out, and working on a project with a friend is a great bonding experience.
If you have a friend who makes a lot of Italian food, for example, invite him or her over to help you sort through making a tiramisu you found online. You’ll get some help from an expert, master a new technique for your repertoire, and you’ll both have a great time and a great meal!
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!