Making the case for long recipes

Recently EYB Members weighed in on just how much preface they are willing to read when it comes to blog recipes. The consensus seemed to be that usually we would rather not read a Dostoevsky-novel-length story before coming to the recipe itself. Not discussed in that debate was the size of the recipe once you get to it. Do you prefer the instructions to be similarly sparse, or would you rather have all of the details explained to you in detail? Food writer JJ Goode prefers the latter, and he makes a compelling case for very long recipes.

open cookbooks

Goode admits to being a nervous cook who appreciates being guided through a recipe. He notes that many phrases commonly used in cookbooks are subject to interpretation - there are several possible definitions for terms such as 'simmer' or 'golden'. Goode notes that short recipes "exclude information, abandoning home cooks to their common sense. And I don't know about you, but I don't have much of that."

Recipes that provide detailed information such as how large a pan should be, rather than vague descriptions like 'medium', can help novice or bumbling cooks "prevent everything from second-degree burns to grease fires to, nearly as bad, disappointment," says Goode. In addition, longer recipes allow us to get a better feel for the author who penned it, so that readers can "get to know the person they're entrusting with their dinner."

When I first started to cook, I very much appreciated this type of recipe handholding, and sometimes I still scratch my head at vague instructions. But even though Goode makes a strong case for lengthy recipes, I prefer short ones. For an especially long recipe, I might even write the ingredients on an index card with cryptic notes that probably look like instructions for a mob hit to the casual observer. Words like 'beat', 'chop', or 'smash' will be penciled next to a bracket around the requisite ingredients for the task.

While I enjoy a long recipe in the abstract, when I actually cook from one, I get distracted and even confused by flipping back and forth between pages or trying to find one sentence in a sea of words. I've left out ingredients this way, despite having carefully measured and prepped in advance. There's nothing like that sinking feeling you get after you've popped a bake into the oven only to see a key ingredient still sitting in a prep bowl on the counter. 

I'll gladly read gloriously long and descriptive recipes as I thumb through my latest cookbook acquisitions. But when it comes time to fire up the stove or oven, I prefer brevity. Which recipe camp do you fall in - detailed and long or sparse and short? 

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