Measure for measure – now you’re cooking

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I read lots of recipes – for me they’re like mini novellas; short stories that fire my imagination. I have some favourite recipe books – Ottolenghi’s Plenty, Karen Martini’s Where the Heart Is, and (embarrassingly) Bill Granger’s Bill’s Food – though I must say in both my defence and Bill’s the recipes in his book are really good – easy and delicious and I would recommend them to anyone starting out on their cooking journey. Then there are some long-time treasures such as David Thompson’s original Classical Thai Cuisine  and Luke Nguyen’s My VietnamStephanie Alexander’s original A Cook’s Companion is a never ending source of information and inspiration and then there are all the issues of Gourmet Traveller – dating back to the 90s but now in digital format on my iPad.

Mostly though I just make it up as I go along. I generally follow a new recipe to the letter and then next time tweak it. Improvise. Sometimes this happens because I haven’t read the recipe properly and forgotten to buy some of the ingredients; other times it’s because I’m cooking from whatever I have to hand and the recipe is just a guide. This is where my saviour Google comes in: what flavourings/how long to cook pork belly? Within nano seconds I have a whole list of recipes for pork belly. The problem then is to sort through all the dross and find exactly what you want.

My other source of recipes (because sometimes I just can’t think of what to make) are the  ones in the Saturday papers. Often they provide great inspiration and Neil Perry’s recipe page in The Sydney Morning Herald’s magazine is usually very do-able.

But sometimes, sigh, recipes can be really exasperating. When, for instance, a recipe calls for 40g of rocket. Really? 40 grams? Who measures rocket? It’s like specifying 15g mint leaves. What is that? Why not just say: “a handful of rocket”? (which, by the way is around 40g). And what’s 15g of mint or coriander?

Now I know that real chefs are very precise in their measurements – after all, they need to ensure that every dish that goes out is exactly right; that each time you have a certain dish its exactly as it was last time. Consistency. There is no room in a professional kitchen for improvisation when cooking for patrons.  I’ve seen chef’s working in concentration on plating up – its quite a thing to see – such precision.  But for the home cook?

I’ve been cooking long enough to be able to gauge by eye and feel. I know that 50ml of lemon juice is roughly 1 medium lemon and that 250ml is about 1 cup. I would much prefer a recipe stated 1 tsp rather than 5ml. (Up until very  recently I only had a measuring jug that had increments of 50 ml so trying to guage what 25ml was – let alone 5 – was rather haphazard).  And after all, cooking is an art, not an exact science (unless you’re Heston Blumenthal) and we all have different palates.   When I’m cooking Thai or Vietnamese dishes I always go by taste.  I don’t even bother with tablespoon measures.  I know approximately how much fish sauce and palm sugar to put into a nuoc cham and always, I taste and adjust.  Of course you could buy all those little sets of measuring gadgets but my kitchen drawers are already cluttered with too many utensils and besides, it’s just one more thing to wash.

So, just to make things easier for those who have no idea how much 10ml lime juice is, here’s a rough guide to some of the things that have perplexed me in recipes:

  • 5ml = 1 tsp
  • 20ml = 1 tbs
  • 75ml = roughly 4 tbs
  • 250ml = 1 cup (just your standard  teacup)
  • 120ml is almost half a cup
  • 40g = 4 tbs
  • 40gm coriander is a small bunch of coriander (just the leaves)
  • Half a lime is about 1 tbs (20ml)

Should you have any measuring tips, do let me know. Happy cooking.

 

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