When a friend asks you for the recipe for your famous-in-the-neighborhood chicken and noodle dish, do you jot down the list of ingredients and add a short paragraph of instructions, only to hear from her later that the recipe didn’t work?
Have you found your grandmother’s collection of recipes, only to discover you can’t follow them because they seem to be written in a secret cooking language? Just how much is “half of Johnny’s coffee cup”?
The skill of writing a clear and concise recipe isn’t just for cookbook authors and food journalists. Those who wish to preserve family recipes, exchange recipes in supper clubs and post recipes on food blogs need this skill to both pass on and save their recipes.
Provide a Descriptive Introduction
The title of your recipe gives the reader an idea of what the dish tastes like. For example, “Chicken and Noodles” doesn’t give the reader an indication of flavors. “Moroccan Chicken with Saucy Egg Noodles” is an enticing title because it describes the flavor profile of the dish.
Include how much your of the dish your recipe makes, the number of servings the recipe yields and the serving size. For example, for a lasagna recipe, the serving size may be 4 ounces. If your recipe yields a 2-pound lasagna, the number of servings is eight. Two pounds equals 32 ounces, and 32 divided by four equals eight.
List the Ingredients in the Right Order
Write the list of ingredients in the order in which they are used.
You also need to list the dominant ingredient or ingredients first. And if several ingredients are added at the same time, list these in order by quantity, with the largest quantity listed first.
Add to that the rules that each measurement should be written out -no abbreviations- and that measures should be precise, something so simple sounding becomes a complex task.
Simplify the list by using subheads to break it into separate parts according to how the recipe is put together. An example of subheads would be ‘Marinade’ and ‘Chicken’ and ‘Sauce’. Each subhead, then, gets a separate list.
Put the Quantities in the Right Order
If the recipe reads ‘1 cup of chopped dried apricots,’ it means the apricots are chopped first then measured out to 1 cup.
If the recipe reads ‘1 cup of dried apricots, chopped,’ it means 1 cup of dried apricots is measured out, and then chopped.
If an action is listed within the measurement, the action is part of the measurement. If the action is listed after the measurement, the action is applied to the measured amount listed.
Write the Directions as a Step by Step Guide
Start the directions with a description of any task necessary to prepare an ingredient, such as “Make the marinade. Add the chicken to the marinade and marinate in the refrigerator for one hour.”
Use step one to indicate oven temperature, the type of pots or pans needed and preparatory steps for those items. Step 1 may read, “Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom of a 2- quart casserole dish”.
List the subsequent steps in order; the steps should correspond directly with the listed order of ingredients.
Explain actions in descriptive terms rather than in “industry lingo.” For example, write “Cook the chopped onions over medium heat until they are translucent,” instead of “Sweat the onions.”
Include cooking times in the last step, with a brief description of what the cook should expect to see when the dish is done. For example, “Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cheese on top is golden in color and the liquid is thickened.”
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
If your recipe is modified from a published recipe, include that information after the directions. If the recipe is handed down from your great-grandfather, make a note of it. This small bit of information maintains the history and continuity of the recipe.