Don’t Be Afraid to Go Off-Recipe in the Kitchen

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I am notorious for not following recipes.

Look, it’s not that I can’t follow directions — it’s because I’m very familiar with how much recipes lie!

For instance, when a recipe says “Prep time: 15 minutes,” what they really meant was, “This is going to take an hour.” And, when it says “Serves 2,” it actually should say, “A hearty meal for one.”

My favorite is when a recipe calls for a clove of garlic. Everyone knows that means three cloves, right?

I might not be a professional chef, but I can at least say that my food tastes good. And, perhaps even more importantly, I have fun in the kitchen. I like cooking.

Sure, you can follow every recipe to a T. I have no arguments against that.

But what if I told you that you could cook without following a recipe?

In fact, plenty of people cook this way — making food without ever glancing at a recipe card or a food blog. They’re just cooking. They’re doing things that are familiar.

Once you understand the fundamentals of how things come together and what works well, there’s no need to follow a recipe’s every rule. You might not even need instructions at all!

Memorize Ratios

There are a few basic rules in cooking, and if you learn them, it’s like unlocking a whole new level. These rules are ratios! A quick google search on recipes for ratios will give you plenty more of an idea, but here are a few examples:

  • Vinaigrettes – 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar
  • Pie Crust – 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part water
  • Roux (for thickening) – 1 part flour, 1 part fat

Butter is a pretty commonly used fat, but you can also use oil, ghee, lard, bacon grease, or other rendered fats.

Don’t Sweat the Measurements

I know that the measurements in a recipe are there for a reason, but sometimes it’s okay if you’re not exact. I often don’t measure, or I don’t measure exactly. We all know that we should double the garlic, though, right?

I don’t mean you should just start dumping cayenne into the pot, but once you’ve been cooking for a while, you’ll start to get a feel for a pinch of salt here, and a dash of seasoning there. It’ll be okay if you’re not perfectly exact, and it’s more than fine to add more or less.

Learn Substitutions

Learn how to make substitutions. Sometimes, recipes call for a tablespoon of a specialty ingredient that you simply do not have, or your grocery store doesn’t carry. Or, you may need to make a dish fit into your particular diet (I make traditionally meat-based dishes into vegetarian masterpieces all the time).

If you learn what you can substitute (or do a quick google search), you’ll find it easier to go off-recipe. For instance, you might be able to use a mashed banana instead of egg, or dried chilies instead of chili paste.

Keep it Simple

A dish doesn’t always have to include a thousand ingredients to make it delicious. I know they make it look easy on the Food Network, but this is real life!

In fact, there are plenty of tasty things you can improvise with the simple 5-ingredient rule. Make quick and filling tacos from meat, cheese, lettuce, salsa, and tortillas. Or, whip up a quick hearty pasta dish with noodles, butter, red pepper flakes, garlic, and shrimp.