You’ve heard me say this before: use recipes as a guide, as a starting point. Don’t limit yourself to that formula. Use your own tastes, likes, and experience to make each and every dish uniquely your own.
You’ve probably encountered someone who cooks without a recipe. They use a little of this, a smidge of that, a pinch of something else. But what you want to know is: how much is a smidge?
Too often we get caught up in the recipe and forget to taste the dish and its ingredients. If you’ve watched one of the many cooking competition shows you’ve seen professional chefs keep a spoon by the stove. They taste their creation at every stage of its development. That little taste tells them more than any recipe ever could. If you’ve ever wondered how they take a bunch of ingredients and create a delicious dish out of that mess, all from the top of their head, or better yet, the tip of their tongue, without any guide, that’s how.
Of course, that’s based on years of experience and training. Before you try to create your own home version of “Chopped,” you should learn a few simple rules about cooking without that recipe net.
First, take an inventory of what you have around the house. Maybe you have chicken breasts in the freezer. You probably can think of several recipes that might be appropriate. But you have to make sure you have the other ingredients. That might modify your plans considerably.
The next step is to picture what dish you want to have in the end. That allows you to picture the steps necessary to get there. For example, you know carrots take longer to soften than onions, or that garlic can burn and become bitter if added to the pan too early.
As you add ingredients remember to use a light touch. You can always add more but you can never take it back out. Always wait to add more salt until the end. As you cook, the dish will become more concentrated, so adding too much salt too soon can end with a salty dish that tastes terrible.
The final step is to make a note of your successful dish. If it tastes good, the chance is you’ll want to make it again. You also might find others want the recipe. So, when you’re done and have pronounced it a success, write it down.
Following these few tips will allow you to invent your own dishes and let your creativity soar.