What are the worst wrong instructions you've seen in a recipe?

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Rangen

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Archie Goodwin, leading a client in to see Nero Wolfe, while Wolfe was in the middle of burning a dictionary in the fireplace, for such sins as saying you could use imply and infer interchangeably, explained to the client that "he once burned up a cookbook for saying you should remove the hide from a ham before putting it into the pot with the beans."

What are your worsts?

I have two. The first is from an otherwise-wonderful recipe for tonic water, from Imbibe magazine, in which, after you simmer the spices and cinchona and citrus, you add all the sugar to make a thick syrup, then spend days trying to filter the muck through coffee filters. Daft. By adding the sugar later, you can do your filtering in minutes, with cheesecloth.

The second, alas, is from the woman who wrote the cookbook that got me started in Chinese cooking. In an otherwise wonderful recipe for "Wine-Simmered Duck," which I am actually in the middle of making for guests tonight, she says, about the noodles that go into the clay pot with the simmered duck and carrots and dried mushrooms: if they are frozen, defrost them thoroughly, then add to boiling water...

That does not work. If you defrost Chinese egg noodles, they stick together. It took me years to learn the trick: just add the frozen noodles to the boiling water, fiddle with them with chopsticks a lot, and they will cook beautifully.
 

SeattleBen

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My mom called me once after following the directions to devein and stem collard greens for a salad. She said it was delicious but not worth the effort. She seemed totally shocked that she could have chiffonaded them or even use a different green all together.
 

Michi

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Nearly thirty ago, I decided to make Knödel (potato dumplings) to go with a pork roast. I bought a packet of the pre-mix from Maggi, which was imported from Germany. (It's essentially just freeze-dried potato flakes and spices.) The Australian importer had put a sticker on the box over the original instructions, with an English translation.

This was a Sunday lunch, with guests I had invited. Roast was proceeding well in the oven and, about 40 minutes before the finish time, I started preparing the dumpling mix. To make this work, you have add the flakes to a pre-determined amount of water because, if you add water to the flakes, you get lots of lumps.

Next thing I knew, after stirring all the flakes into the water, I had potato soup. The importer had stuffed up the measurements and specified way too much water. I was standing there with a total mess on my hands and the Sunday lunch at the brink of disaster, with the guests watching the entire thing unfold and me being desperate.

I think I found some stale potatoes in the cupboard and quickly cooked those because, sure as hell, it wasn't going to be potato dumplings that day…
 
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GorillaGrunt

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When I was teaching myself to cook, before I learned to season food to taste - 2 tbs salt in like 1# of burger, and there was feta and other salty stuff ... either it was a misprint or the author smoked like 6 packs a day
 

Michi

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In general, lack of precision is a problem in recipes, especially for people who don't have much cooking experience.

It's no good saying "a cup" when it's not clear whether that's a Japanese, a metric, or an Imperial cup. Same for a tablespoon.

Don't get me started on "a tablespoon of salt". Depending on the salt, that can vary by as much as a factor of two.

Good recipes state the units they use, and they provide gram measures in addition to volume measures, especially for stuff where small changes can make a big difference. If someone says "5 g of salt", I know where I stand, no matter what grain size my salt has.

I'm not interested in all this Imperial nonsense either. 95% of the world's population do not use Imperial units. They don't measure things in pounds and ounces. So, do me the favour of at least stating metric equivalents. It's not a big ask.

What's a "medium" oven? Buggered if I know. Depending on where I look, it can be anything between 160 ºC and 180 ºC. (And, yes, I couldn't care less what that is in Fahrenheit, which 95% of the world's population also do not use as a unit.) Is it too much to ask for the temperature in Celsius? Especially when a really precise thermometer probe can be bought for $10?

My favourite: "Bake until done." Yeah, thanks a lot buddy… :(
 
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Michi

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Here is a sterling example that I just stumbled over. It's a recipe for potato dumplings:
Screen Shot 2021-04-11 at 17.50.29.png

I'll translate for you. Note that "etwas" is the German word for "some".
  • 2 kg raw starchy potatoes
  • Some potato flour
  • 250 ml milk
  • Some butter
  • Some bread
  • Some nutmeg and some salt
Wow. "Some" potato flour, "some" butter, "some" bread, "some" nutmeg, and "some" salt. Note how the same recipe, despite the many "somes", does not hesitate to provide protein, carbohydrate, and fat content to a precision of 1/10th of a gram! After I added "some" butter, I can rest assured that, per 100 g, the recipe will contain 1.6 g of fat, exactly. Sure thing.

This recipe is from kochbar.de, one of the big German cooking sites.

To an engineer, this has "incompetent" written all over it. For someone who has never made Knödel before, this is useless. For someone who has made them before, it is not of any interest. No good to beginners, and no good to experienced cooks, so why bother publishing this in the first place?
 
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big_adventure

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In general, lack of precision is a problem in recipes, especially for people who don't have much cooking experience.

It's not good saying "a cup" when it's not clear whether that's a Japanese, a metric, or an Imperial cup. Same for a tablespoon.

Don't get me started on "a tablespoon of salt". Depending on the salt, that can vary by as much as a factor of two.

Good recipes state the units they use, and they provide gram measures in addition to volume measures, especially for stuff where small changes can make a big difference. If someone says "5 g of salt", I know where I stand, no matter what grain size my salt has.

I'm not interested in all this Imperial nonsense either. 95% of the world's population do not use Imperial units. They don't measure things in pounds and ounces. So, do me the favour of at least stating metric equivalents. It's not a big ask.

What's a "medium" oven? Buggered if I know. Depending on where I look, it can be anything between 160 ºC and 180 ºC. (And, yes, I couldn't care less what that is in Fahrenheit, which 95% of the world's population also do not use as a unit.) Is it too much to ask for the temperature in Celsius? Especially when a really precise thermometer probe can be bought for $10?

My favourite: "Bake until done." Yeah, thanks a lot buddy… :(
Number one (and nearly only) thing for me is that first one: everything should be identified by mass. Volume, especially with grains and such, is completely useless. When I see a recipe with "half a cup" and "2 teaspoons" I click "skip."
 

Michi

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Number one (and nearly only) thing for me is that first one: everything should be identified by mass. Volume, especially with grains and such, is completely useless. When I see a recipe with "half a cup" and "2 teaspoons" I click "skip."
Same here. I have better things to do than waste my time on people who don't know how to write a recipe that makes sense.

Now, don't get me wrong: precision isn't everything. Ingredients vary with season and how fresh they are, not all spices are created equal, and so on. There will always be a need for judgement and experience.

But, please… How hard is it to record what I put into the pot while I'm cooking a dish? If I decide to write a recipe, I'd think that's the least I could do. But the internet keeps proving me wrong :(
 

lowercasebill

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Day before Thanksgiving i get a call at the office late afternoon.. "My cheesecake is all runny. What did you put in it ? Cream cheese sour cream etc.
How long did you cook it..
I didn't cook it.. My mother never cook hers.
Duh your mother made Jello cheesecake
 

RonB

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You guys are all wimps. ;) Look up some really old recipes, (from 1700s - 1800s). Back then they didn't have any standardized measuring devices. I remember seeing one recipe that called for "some lard the size of a hen's egg". Was that a small, medium, or large egg?? :oops: And I remember my aunt cookin' on a wood stove that had no way to measure temps, but she still managed to produce great food.

But I must admit that I do love my measuring devices...
 

GorillaGrunt

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I think low oven, medium oven, etc. goes back to the old British gas Mark system. But ultimately instructions are only a framework the closer you get to working with food in its natural form with variation in size, density, moisture, etc.

Blindly following recipes gave me some of the worst results in the beginning and “cook until done” was the most infuriating direction, but there are so many variables especially when you’re not cooking in the same kitchen as the recipe originator that the best results are actually from heating it until it’s right, adding ingredients until it tastes and looks and feels right, and cooking it until it’s done.

as a comparison, I’ve turned lots of methods like that into gram recipes at work and only written a few recipes for home cooks: I find the latter much more difficult.
 

Honerabi

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I was attempting to make Bavarian sweet mustard. I hadn't bothered to read the reviews before attempting. Something was way off, and the reviews indicated as such. It was inedible. I was able to make a correction based on similar recipes, and salvaged the mustard. I was intrigued by using Mexican piloncillo. The mustard had to cure for a few months, and it finally came around.

Have found that most recipes call for too much salt, sugar, and duration of cooking. Guess Kentucky windage has it's place in the kitchen.
 

Oshidashi

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I am grateful for recipes on YouTube, where you can see what the cook is doing and how everything looks at each step. I find I get a better result following the video without scrolling down to the ingredient amounts. The home cooks I know that follow written recipes precisely, tend to have little talent and poor results.

Also, that info about salt volume varying with grain size is important. As Chef John on FoodWishes says, put half the amount of salt the recipe calls for, then add salt to taste at the end.
 

LAB

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Real crappy rice cooking video with hilarious commentary that had most of the rice eating communities up in arms against BBC.
Favourite " If the rice is too wet, you f***ed up, don't bring colander into your rice cooking"
 

GorillaGrunt

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Wasn’t there another one like this where the bbc promoted some food thing as authentic that was way outside the traditional preparation?
 

LAB

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There are soooo many lol but seriously I don't really like this uncle roger dude, but this is spot on for the title of this thread
 

big_adventure

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Real crappy rice cooking video with hilarious commentary that had most of the rice eating communities up in arms against BBC.
Favourite " If the rice is too wet, you f***ed up, don't bring colander into your rice cooking"
Uncle Roger is brilliant.
 

LAB

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Egg Fried rice is something everyone kind of does at home, but it can really reveal the skill of the chef in a Chinese restaurant..
 

cotedupy

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It's quite interesting this subject (I think at least)...

Apparently few cookbooks that are published are properly sense checked or independently tried out. A publisher will have a book proof-read for grammar and spelling, but what you can't expect a proof-reader to do is notice an extra zero that takes 10g to 100g, or that a technique doesn't actually work as described.

I have a friend who has done this for a cookbook, and apparently it's vanishingly rare. The time and expenditure required to employ someone to go through and cook every single recipe as described, is massively prohibitive in the skinny-margin world of publishing. So it just doesn't happen, and many cookbooks are riddled with errors or bad advice.

It'd a bit like publishing a political autobiography and employing someone to fact-check it... far too much hassle ;).
 

LAB

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Well I see it as two problems..
One to fact check for typos, grammar and errors 10 vs 100 etc... I think you always need a fresh pair of eyes to check. No one is infallible.

Second problem on recipe, whether it is good or workable: I think that is why they usually get a chef or someone who is famous for cooking to work on a book and put his/her big fat name on the cover... If you screw it up, its your reputation at stake... That's essentially what the publisher is paying them for isn't it?
 

Jovidah

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Every time I see a meat preparation (for example a roast) where you're eventually told to throw away the fat I cringe and die a little inside. Unless the fat is burnt / pushed beyond smoking point, it's going to be some of the most flavorful sideproducts you can find in a kitchen... Fry potatoes in it, or even just use it as the basis for your next meal, but for heaven's sake don't throw it away.
 

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