What Happens Once You've Cooked a Recipe 100 Times?

Readers, do you have any recipes you've cooked so many times that you've lost count?

When you reach this point with a favorite dish, interesting things happen. You barely need to look at the recipe. Preparing it becomes relaxing, even meditative. You don’t think about the process steps and how to do them. Heck, you hardly need to think at all, and the recipe comes out great every time.

Despite all I've written here at Casual Kitchen, you'd think cooking would be meditative and relaxing for me all the time. You'd be wrong. Usually I try to avoid cooking--or even better, shirk it off onto somebody else. But there are several key recipes here, recipes like Chicken Mole, Risotto, Black Beans and Rice, North African Lemon Chicken and Groundnut Stew, that I've made hundreds of times, and I’m so comfortable with these recipes that preparing them becomes as mentally demanding as folding the laundry. Which is my idea of a meditative exercise.

My introduction to this idea was in New Zealand. Our friend Richard, who owns a cafe and catering company in the city of Christchurch, was teaching me how to make a "flat white" (like a cappuccino, only better). Coffee is a refined art in New Zealand and I was struggling to get it just right. The grounds needed to be pressed just enough, the milk needed to be frothed just right, and everything needed to be combined with just the right amount of flair. I screwed up several that went right into the wastebasket. Then, finally, I made one that got a passing grade. Maybe a C-minus.

Richard told me, "after you've properly made 200 of these, I'd let you in front of a customer." I stared at him. As naive as I'm sure this sounds, this was the first time I'd really thought about the concept of making something so many times that it becomes second nature, that you don’t have to think about it, and you can start to add your personality to the process rather than just complete the process.

These are the kinds of things you can do after you've cooked a recipe 20, 50 or even 200 times:

1) You can carry on a conversation while you cook, and pay sincere attention to both tasks.

2) You can scale up the recipe for a large dinner party or a big group with little additional stress.

3) The cooking experience becomes easy, even effortless.

4) You confidently modify the recipe, or add improvisational flourishes as you cook. You know exactly how the recipe works and you know what variables you can and cannot tweak.

5) You make it... and it tastes amazing every time. You may not even know why it tastes amazing, but it just does.

Perhaps this is the home cook's version of the so-called 10,000 Hour Rule. Then again, you certainly don't need 10,000 hours to get good--really, really good--at cooking. Why? Well, just do the math: It only takes fifty hours to make a 30 minute recipe one hundred times (the majority of the recipes here at CK can be made in under 30 minutes for $2 a serving or less). Using the time-saving strategy of heavy rotation--rotating in the easiest, least expensive and most-loved recipes on a twice- or three-times-a-month basis--you could hit the I cooked this 100 times mark with four or five favorite recipes within just a few years.

Which makes cooking healthy food for your family an even easier part of your life than it already is.


Related Posts:
Thoughts On Recipe Development
Making It a Treat
Re-Seasoning: Never Be Bored With Leftovers Again
The Paradox of Cooking Shows

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3 comments:

Owlhaven said...

Yes! And that's when cooking becomes easy instead of stressful. I love this post! I think maybe I'll share my oft-repeated recipes in a blog post this week too.
I've made that chicken mole of yours and love it! Only twice tho--maybe I'll work towards making it one of my automatic recipes.
Thanks for this,
Mary

Janet Squire said...

Chocolate chip cookies and the family Oatmeal Cake recipes I know by heart. Not to mention numerous dishes that don't really require a 'recipe' persay....it is indeed theraputic.

Jenna said...

Risotto reached that point a few years ago in my kitchen. We have one version or another at least once a week (usually more - because while it's simple as can be with endless variation options... I seem incapable of making less then a gallon. No matter how many times I make it and try to cut down, 'just a splash more' ends up in the pan! Thank god it's a great base for other dishes) and it's my 'crap, didn't we just have dinner LAST night' panicked go-to. I can listen to a book on tape - even read while propped on my stool - talk on the phone or just dreamily stir in a meditative fog and still get something amazing and customizable on the table without much thought or work.