Friday, November 27, 2015

Rein's top 10 recipe writing tips

A well-written recipe is a thing to be desired and there are many howlers on the internet. Here are my top 10 tips to craft a good recipe:

1. Decide on your narrative style

You could use a descriptive style (where measures and ingredients are given in the same text with the steps or method). This style is usually found in older recipe books. It suits recipes with only a few ingredients and with three or four steps. 

However, busy cooks would prefer an ingredients and measures list separate from a step by step method description. This is what today's readers are used to and it makes it easier to check if you have all the necessary ingredients at one glance. 

2. Avoid too much personal experience or feelings

Resist the temptation to be overly personal with the recipe and detail at length your feelings when you did a particular step or give too long an introduction to the recipe. Readers do enjoy the personal touch, particularly when it comes to technique or variations but too much may bore the reader and leave them eager to move on to the recipe.

3. Write for a global audience

Ensure that readers from all parts of the English-speaking world will understand your references and measures. Whether you decide on using the imperial or metric system, keep it consistent or better yet, you may wish to provide both. 

This also applies to certain ingredients that are called different things in different countries or regions. A usual culprit is spring onions/shallots/french shallots/eschallots/scallions/onion leaves. These mean different things to different readers so mentioning the alternatives or adding a picture may help. If one of your ingredients must be in a different language, italicise the word and a picture or further explanation is also useful.

4. Perfect your ingredients and measures list

List the ingredients in the order that they will be used in the recipe or for more complicated recipes with several "mini recipes" within them, group the ingredients and then refer to them as a group in the method description. Give easy to understand measures as well. For example, "a teaspoon of minced ginger" is clearer than "an inch of ginger".  

6. Match your ingredients and method description

Do a two-way double check: have you listed all the ingredients used in your method description? Have you used in the method description all the ingredients listed? Nothing worse for an inexperienced cook to have have an ingredient listed which is then left out of the method.

6. Assume your readers have minimal (not zero) cooking knowledge

When describing the method, try to be as descriptive and clear as possible. This will cater to a wider audience and help a reader who is just starting to try their hand in the kitchen. The experts are likely to tweak recipes anyway so you needn't worry too much about them.

7. Include ideal salt and pepper measures 

Especially when cooking mains like chicken dishes, suggest to the reader how much salt and/or pepper they should add to achieve the best flavour from the dish. You may then suggest they reduce or increase to their preference. Salt to taste is easily done by those who are familiar with what a dish should taste like but it does not help the newbie much.

8. Give substitutes for hard to find, unusual ingredients

This is helpful where you think an ingredient is not something commonly found in a pantry. If the substitute will alter the flavour of the dish, alert the reader to this as well.

9. Suggest accompaniments or side dishes

Particularly for main meal recipes or starters, giving some ideas of what the recipe usually matches well with, or what it goes with, or what weather it suits will help the reader who may be thinking of adding  your recipe to a bigger menu.

10. A picture speaks volumes 

Adding a colourful picture of your finished dish will help your reader have some idea of what they're embarking on and also gives them an indication if they got it right at the end. I am always more inclined to try a recipe when it looks good in a picture.

Hope you find these useful - go forth, write and inspire someone to cook!


"Simple joys of meals, grateful am I indeed Never worry how next it comes But always hope for a delicious feed"

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