Naz Deravian, the author of the cookbook Bottom of the Pot, grew up in a family that shunned recipes in favor of spontaneous cooking—an attitude that initially impeded her effort to write a cookbook. However, as she wrote in an article for The Atlantic, the specificity and certainty of following a recipe eventually became a source of comfort for her, especially as she grappled with national and personal stressors.
Even for those who are not facing such upheaval, recipes can be reassuring safety nets. Spontaneity has become a glamorous ideal in the food world (see, for example, the editor Sam Sifton’s recent work The New York Times Cooking No-Recipe Recipes). But at-home cooks tend to need more guidance before they’re prepared for complete freedom. Recipes can provide that. So can guidebooks, such as Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Nosrat’s work, which my colleague Joe Pinsker called a “metacookbook,” not only teaches readers how to prepare specific dishes but also helps them to develop the culinary intuition needed for successful experimentation in the kitchen. And that knowledge comes with another added benefit: efficiency. Rather than seeking out complex dishes with long prep times, intuitive cookers can follow their instincts to prepare something quick and delicious.
Still, when one does have the time, nothing beats the meditative calm of slowly preparing a longer recipe. The experience reminds us that, as Michael Pollan, a chef and the author of Cooked says, “This process we’re being told is pure drudgery is actually interesting and gratifying and satisfying.”
Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.
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