How to Read an Ingredient List, as Well as the Recipe

Appears in

Get in There and Cook: A Master Class for the Starter Chef

Get in There and Cook

By Richard Sax

Published 1997

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First, before anything—before taking out a pot or pan, or reaching into the cupboard for an ingredient—read the entire recipe, more than once if you have to, in order to have a clear picture of what’s going to happen. This should eliminate any mistakes, disasters, or unexpected surprises. Visualize the steps and techniques: “First I drizzle olive oil into a medium skillet and then I place the skillet over medium-high heat. ...”

Now, go over the ingredient list. Pay attention not just to what the ingredient is, but take note of what’s done with it. Is it chopped, diced, smashed? How is it measured? You’ll find that “½ cup drained canned tomatoes, chopped” is not the same as “½ cup drained chopped canned tomatoes.” The latter is a little more dry than the first, making it more suitable for a sauté, where you don’t want a lot of excess moisture in the pan. “One-half cup toasted walnuts, chopped” is different from “½ cup chopped toasted walnuts”; the first measurement is a smaller quantity than the second, which could make a difference when baking a cake or bread. “One cup flour, sifted” is not “1 cup sifted flour”; the second measurement contains less flour than the first quantity, and that will make a difference in baking. “Prepared mustard” is the variety from ajar, while “dry mustard” is just that, a powder sprinkled from a jar or small can into a dish for a little piquancy. A recipe sometimes will not only specify quantity, but type, as with apples: 8 Cortland apples (about 3 pounds), peeled, cored, and sliced ¼ inch thick. Not only do you know what kind of apple to buy, but you know how much and what to do with them. So even before you get to the recipe directions, you have a good idea what to expect. Remember, too, to play close attention to tablespoon and teaspoon. If you glance quickly at the ingredient list, it’s very easy to confuse these two measurements, especially if they are abbreviated—tbsp. and tsp.