A matter of taste

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2008, 12:00am

There's an online controversy unfolding in the world of food bloggers - but for once, the oft-fractious community is in agreement. It all started when Melissa from Alosha's Kitchen (aloshaskitchen. blogspot.com) posted a recipe for potato salad that she had adapted from Cook's Country, a sister magazine to Cook's Illustrated, which is known for testing recipes multiple times before they are published. The recipe is nothing out of the ordinary: potatoes (it specifies Yukon Gold), pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, sour cream, red onion and hard-boiled eggs; a version that any experienced cook might make without too much thought, give or take a few ingredients. Melissa adapted the recipe to her tastes and posted the new proportions and her method, and attributed the original recipe to Cook's Country, as is protocol. She then received an e-mail from the publication's public relations firm asking her to remove the recipe from her site, saying, 'we don't allow our recipes to be modified [in print] ... because they work'.

Melissa and other bloggers were incensed that the PR assumed the publication's recipes were perfect and to everyone's taste. And besides, they maintain, the Cook's Country recipe must have been adapted from another - potato salad is hardly an original dish.

No recipe appeals to everyone. It's not just the amount of salt or pepper that is variable, it's everything: with potato salad, some people want more onion, others don't add any; another cook might put some garlic in the cooking liquid (it infuses the potato with a subtle flavour), while we in Hong Kong might use another type of potato, because Yukon Golds are hard to find (and expensive).

When professionals are in the kitchen, don't think for a minute they're precisely measuring the amount of every ingredient or timing the cooking down to the last second. Experience tells them how much salt and pepper to sprinkle on, how much wine to splash into a pan to deglaze it and how long to cook a piece of fish.

If you're new to cooking, you might want to follow a recipe faithfully. Take note of what you liked and disliked then tweak the recipe the next time you make it. Eventually, you'll be using recipes only as rough guides and you can make a dish your own - even if the idea for it came from Cook's Country magazine.