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You just came across an amazing new recipe – but it features some ingredients you’ve never heard of before, and cooking techniques you’ve never tried in your kitchen at home.
Should you just… find something easier to make instead?
Recipes that call for unfamiliar ingredients or cooking techniques can seem daunting to both experienced chefs and rookie home cooks, but these 10 tips will help you approach a new recipe the right way.
As anyone who has tried to expand their kitchen repertoire knows, new culinary concoctions can leave you feeling hassled or stressed in the kitchen as you juggle unfamiliar techniques and routines in uncharted territory.
However, there are easy ways to make this process fun and enjoyable!
From smart strategizing to fixing disasters, read on for our top tips that will make cooking with new ingredients or methods and mastering unfamiliar recipes a breeze!
10 Tips for Cooking Unfamiliar Recipes
1. Clean Your Kitchen
Cleaning your kitchen, and keeping it that way, before trying a new recipe can mean the difference between a frenzied, chaotic evening and a calm, relaxed cooking experience.
With a clean work station, as well as tools and appliances maintained with respect, it will be easier for you to move smoothly as you tackle the different steps and stages of your new recipe.
Plus, with less clutter in the kitchen, you won’t lose something you’ve set down, or forget to add an ingredient that’s hiding on the counter behind a pile of other stuff!
Before getting started, give your workspace a quick audit, and prioritize any quick cleaning updates – try any of our 15-minute cleaning hacks to easily spruce up your space.
This could be as simple as wiping down your countertops, or reorganizing a shelf or two of your refrigerator if you’re hoping to make a recipe with a long list of fresh ingredients that you still need to buy and store.
2. Review and Copy the Recipe
One of the challenges of trying new recipes is that, no matter how closely you think you read them the first time, it’s all too easy to miss something crucial!
Read the entire recipe once, then write it out somewhere else!
When you have to write out every word, either by putting pen to paper or typing it out on your phone or computer, there’s no chance you’ll be unpleasantly surprised by an unexpected technique, ingredient, or kitchen tool.
Copying it out provides you with an excellent opportunity to start thinking about your time, and your space, as you go. And don’t use copy/paste shortcuts, please!
An additional strategy to try as part of this process is to also read it out loud from start to finish – verbalizing every step may be more effective for you than silently reading it.
Looking up photographs or videos of the techniques you’ll be attempting can help you achieve perfect results.
This is also the best time to research any unfamiliar ingredients, and figure out if you need to head to a specialty food store, or order them online.
If you’ll be using more than one new cooking technique, it’s a good idea to save or print out images or detailed directions for each one to quickly access and reference when you’re completing that task.
Doing some research to find pictures of the completed dish online, or ones that are similar to it, is another good strategy. This provides the visual motivation you need to achieve a successful result in your own kitchen, and will give you creative ideas for how to plate, garnish, and serve it as well.
4. Plan Your Time
Writing out a general timetable for each step makes new recipes easy to follow.
Most recipes provide – or they should provide! – estimates for prep, passive, cooking, and total time.
Don’t ignore these!
They will provide a basic structure that you can use to more intricately break down each step of the prep and cooking processes.
Planning your schedule in advance based on the time required helps to reduce the chances that you’ll cook or bake your food improperly, or that you’ll end up rushing things to the table in order to have dinner at a reasonable hour.
And this is particularly helpful when you are already balancing multiple responsibilities with a crazy-busy work or personal schedule! A dedicated kitchen timer will be your trusty companion, like this Jumbo Readout Digital Timer from Taylor, available at Sur La Table.
Taylor Jumbo Readout Digital Timer, available at Sur La Table
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.
5. Factor in a Break
Look, you know you deserve one.
As you make your timetable, identify when there may be passive time in the cooking process.
While something is gently simmering on the stove or baking in the oven, take advantage of this break from actively cooking or baking to focus on some personal time – or even some exercise time if you are filled with extra energy to burn.
During this time, you can catch up on other tasks that you may be behind on doing – whether that time is spent with family, cleaning, relaxing, or exercising.
6. Identify What’s Required for Each Step
As you are breaking down your new recipe step by step, make sure you also identify the tools you’ll need, and what location of the kitchen you need to be in, for each step of the process.
That way, you can plan ahead and make sure the tools and appliances you need for each step are within arm’s reach of where you’ll be doing a task.
7. Brainstorm a Backup
When you look at a new recipe, try to brainstorm a worst-case-scenario backup plan that will let you use part or all of the work you’ve done to build a new dish.
If your lasagna is too weird and watery, can it be transformed into some sort of rustic Italian stew?
If your popovers don’t puff, can you repurpose them as a dessert base with easy roasted blueberries and freshly whipped cream?
Do you know what to do if you made dinner waaaaaay too spicy?
If you have a backup plan that will let you deliver an enjoyably edible meal to the table no matter what, you’ll be able to work your way through even the most challenging new cooking or baking techniques with the security of a reliable safety net.
8. Prepare Your Mise en Place
Mise en place simply means “putting in place,” setting out all of your prepared ingredients before you begin the cooking or baking process or set any time-based processes in motion.
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 get all of your prep work out of the way first.
That way, as you’re cooking, you’ll be ready to simply grab the next ingredient and throw it effortlessly into the pan.
Once you feel the rhythm of a dish, you can figure out how to streamline it for efficiency. But if you’re working with an unfamiliar technique or ingredients, you need all the ease of cooking you can get.
So do your ingredient prep in advance!
9. Be Discreet
One of the most troubling aspects of trying out new recipes often has to do with meeting expectations.
To reduce any tension surrounding this, you can choose to keep your new dish a surprise for your guests.
Your lucky dinnertime companions will be amazed by your ever-expanding culinary repertoire, but you won’t have to contend with meeting the expectation that your dish will be exactly what they may have expected to eat.
Realize that you can turn failure into success – and your family and friends will be none the wiser.
For example, did you make a grapefruit honey sorbet that didn’t set properly? No worries! It’s just time to pull out your backup plan.
This liquidy mess can be served and described as a “fruity soup” instead, and your guests won’t feel like they’re missing out if they weren’t promised sorbet ahead of time. Ladle the chilled liquid into bowls, top with mint sprigs, and serve proudly. Or call it a coulis and use it as a sauce with store bought pound cake or angel food cake.
Have everyone think you made the new dish correctly – even when you totally didn’t!
10. Invite Company
But if you prefer to have company in the kitchen, and don’t mind the vulnerability of sharing both successes and failures, cooking something unfamiliar is even more fun when you have someone to share your culinary adventure with.
If you’ve never made a particular recipe before, try to find someone in your social circle who has some experience with the food, or who also likes to play and experiment in the kitchen, and invite them over to help you make and enjoy it.
A new recipe goes a lot more smoothly if you can learn the tricks and quirks of the techniques involved from somebody who knows them inside and out, and working on a project with a friend, partner, or family member is a great bonding experience.
If you have a friend who makes a lot of Italian desserts, for example, invite them over to help you work through making homemade tiramisu for the first time.
You’ll get some help from an expert, master a new technique, and you’ll both have a great time with a delicious dish to enjoy together when you’re finished.
Take a Risk and Have Some Fun
With a little bit of creative planning, you can eliminate both the tension of trying something new and the fear of cooking from scratch.
With these top 10 tips, you will be able to coast easily to the finish line of mastering a delicious dish that’s outside of your usual comfort zone.
Do you have any advice for tackling a new cooking project at home? Let’s hear it all! Leave a comment below when you’re free to chat.
We so appreciate and admire your brazen culinary prowess! If you want to continue learning in the kitchen, we can help you every step of the way with more of our helpful how-to guides. Bring your tools and an empty stomach, and read these tutorials next:
- 5 Steps to Create the Perfect Meat and Cheese Board
- How to Make Squash Puree
- How to Make Your Own Cottage Cheese
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. Originally published on September 6, 2014. Last updated on April 10, 2023.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.