Preparation is 90 percent of cooking success

Preparation is 90 percent of cooking success

I’m plowing through a new recipe I’ve not made before and have a bowl of chicken, onions, garlic, ginger and other stuffing ingredients in a bowl ready to be cooked before the next step.

Turning back to my cookbook to see how long I need to sauté this collection of yummy-smelling food, I see the vegetables were supposed to be cooked off separately before continuing. I thought, “You’ve done it again, you nincompoop.”

Fortunately, the veggies were, for the most part, sitting on top of the chicken, so I just scraped that off into another bowl. As I did so, I kicked myself under my breath for making such a silly mistake. I failed to read the entire recipe all the way through before continuing.

You’ve heard far greater cooks than I say it, but it’s an immovable truth: Preparation is 90% of cooking success, the same as with just about any multi-step task. When you sit down with a cookbook or find a recipe online, the first part of preparation is to read the entire recipe, but here I have to differentiate between the two sources.

With a cookbook recipe, you should be sure to read the opening description usually included before the ingredient list and instructions. In those introductory words, you may well find some helpful tips or suggested substitutions. If you’re looking at a recipe posted by a food blogger online, it’s probably safer to cut to the recipe and dispense with the unrelated chatter and over-explaining filler copy.

Reading the whole recipe first keeps you from making doltish mistakes like mine, and I’ve made this mistake often enough to be embarrassed. One thing that will catch you every time is a listed last ingredient of “one egg.”

If you just start combining the listed ingredients without checking for caveats, you’ll find that last egg is for an egg wash at the end and not an actual ingredient. The same goes for a small amount of butter listed at the end. Reading everything through first, you’ll also know before you start what has to be cooked separately and if the milk you’re using should be heated first.

Once you have read and understand the recipe, you can start the next critical step: assembling and preparing ingredients. This truly is a smart thing to do. You don’t want to get halfway through cooking a dish, with the kitchen filled with blooming fragrances and billowing steam, only to find you are out of the required soy sauce or learn your roommate used the last lime in their gin and tonic the night before.

You either have to stop cooking and go buy what you need or scrap the project and bake some unsatisfying tater tots. Either way, you’re in line for a scold from hungry family.

Get everything you need including salt, pepper and oils ready to go and in easy reach. If you need a food processor, get that out and ready to go. Sometimes, a recipe needs a quantity of brewed coffee, and you’ll want to make sure you have some finished and ready.

Chop all the ingredients that need to be prepared and put them into bowls. Measure out herbs and spices and get all your needed liquids in order. Clear the sink of dirty dishes and give yourself enough counter space to work comfortably. Get the whisks, spatulas and spoons needed out and within reach and get the serving dishes ready.

If, like many of us, you like to have something to snack on while you’re cooking, get that out also, along with the requisite glass of wine. A toast to Julia Child before beginning helps get the universe on your side.

Some recipes come together very quickly or need carefully timed additions to the cooking pot. Having everything laid out, measured and ready will give you confidence before you start. Pausing to hunt for buttermilk may cause your dish to be ruined by the time delay. And read that recipe first.