I also noticed something funny that I came across with Elisabeth, showing her some of the dishes Chang presents in the book – descriptive instructions with ingredients mostly without quantity (cleverly underlined and colorized so that ‘they pop out) all slipped into meaty paragraphs.
“These are recipes in prose form,” she said. “Is it useful? »
I tried to answer this question by making Chang’s no-recipe recipe for prawns with corn and potatoes, where the potatoes cook with bacon, onion, and garlic, then receive a squirt of miso or a pinch of chaat masala. It’s a fun and flavorful dish, with an unspoken reliance on a home cook’s existing skills to get it over the finish line. The potatoes, diced to the size shown in the photo, took far longer than the five minutes they needed to cook, and although the bacon I used had a lot of fat, it didn’t didn’t make enough to cook the onion and potatoes as the recipe implied it would. I also found myself reverse engineering the recipe to prep things and work out quantities.
Likewise, Chang’s microwave eggplant parmesan turned out as you might expect from a “weekday eggplant parmesan” recipe, but in this case it was more difficult. The recipe calls for “a few” eggplants cut into half-inch-thick discs, placed on a platter and cooked for five to ten minutes. My microwave is a small but mighty GE we dubbed Sparky Jr., and while microwaves can be fantastic kitchen helpers, cooking that amount of eggplant in it was a pain in the ass. I had to do several rounds on different plates, a problem I think almost everyone who tries this recipe will have. (Sparky Jr. is small, but not this small.) Eventually, however, I piled everything into a baking dish (Chang and Krishna suggest an ovenproof casserole of indeterminate size) and 30 minutes later we had a nice little dinner.
I had had enough of this book, but just to make sure I read it right, I reached out to a fellow food writer.
“I hate that ‘no recipe’ shit,” she replied. “Recipes, when well written and edited, are designed to be clear instructions to get you to a specific destination. Why is that a bad thing?”
There’s a good book here somewhere, maybe something called David Chang’s weeknight cooking. But being cloaked in the recipeless format only bogs it down.
The New York Times Cooking recipes without a recipe by Sam Sifton, on the other hand, is sleek and nimble. Bound in bright red fabric and about the size of a thick iPad, it’s packed with low-effort, high-reward food. Outside of the table of contents, there are exactly four pages of text before diving into the recipes, and three of them suggest good things to have in the pantry.
And these “recipes?” They’re still recipes, with a classic (super short) introductory note, ingredient list, and procedure, all pretty simplified. Quantities tend to depend on your good judgment. I’ve come to think of the book as a collection of great ideas for busy people who know how to cook and just want some guidelines.
One chilly evening when I didn’t want to go grocery shopping, I made anchovy butter, mashing a can of tiny salted fillets into a stick of softened butter with chopped garlic, paprika and lemon . This was spread on homemade toast, topped with a boiled egg, and Elisabeth and I washed it down with a glass of cava. For a while the world news faded and all was well.