I also noticed something funny, which I cross-referenced with Elisabeth and showed her a few of the meals Chang has in the book – descriptive instructions with mostly quantity-less ingredients (cleverly underlined and colored so they stand out) all tucked into meaty section.
“They are recipes in prose form,” she said. “Is that helpful?”
I tried to answer that question by making Chang’s no-recipe shrimp with corn and potatoes recipe, where the skewers cook with bacon, onion, and garlic, then get a drizzle of miso or a sprinkling of chaat masala. It’s a fun, tasty dish, with an unspoken reliance on a home cook’s existing skills to get it over the finish line. Potatoes, diced the size shown in the picture, took much longer than the five minutes it says to cook, and although the bacon I used had plenty of fat, it didn’t melt enough to cook onions and potatoes as the recipe suggested it would. I also found myself reverse engineering the recipe to prep things and figure out quantities.
Similarly, Chang’s microwaved eggplant parm turned out as you might hope an “eggplant parm for the week” recipe might, but in this case it was more finicky. The recipe calls for “a couple” of eggplants cut into half-inch-thick slices, arranged on a platter and nuked for five to ten minutes. My microwave is a small but mighty GE we’ve dubbed Sparky Jr. and while microwaves can be great kitchen helpers, cooking this amount of eggplant in it was a pain in the ass. I was forced to make several rounds on different plates, a problem I think almost everyone who tries this recipe will have. (Sparky Jr. is small, but not to small.) Finally, I layered it all in a baking dish (Chang and Krishna suggest an ovenproof pan of indeterminate size), and 30 minutes later we had a nice little dinner.
I had enough of this book, but just to make sure I read things correctly, DMed a fellow food writer.
“I hate this ‘non-recipe’ crap,” 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 in here somewhere, maybe something called David Chang’s cooking of the week. But being veiled in the no-recipe format just puts it down.
The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton, on the other hand, is sleek and supple. Cloth-bound in a nice red color and about the size of a thick iPad, it’s chock full of low-stakes, high-reward food. Outside of the table of contents, there are exactly four pages of text before it dives into the recipes, three of which suggest good things to keep in the pantry.
And these “recipes?” They are still recipes with a classic (super short) headnote, ingredient list and procedure, all pretty streamlined. Crowds tend to trust your good judgment. I came to think of the book as a collection of great ideas for busy people who know how to cook and just want some guidelines.
On a chilly evening when I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store, I made anchovy butter, mashing a can of small salty fillets into a stick of softened butter with some minced garlic, paprika and lemon. It was spread on toasted homemade bread, topped with a soft-boiled egg, and Elisabeth and I washed it down with a glass of cava. For a moment the world news disappeared and all was well.