There is always a brief flicker of fear behind their eyes when they ask it: Is this recipe hard to make?
It’s always hard to say. To my way of thinking, no recipes are actually hard to make. Some just have more ingredients than others.
The actual physical parts of cooking aren’t hard at all, as far as I can tell. Yes, you have to do a lot of chopping, but chopping is easy if you have a sharp knife.
Chefs and professional cooks can chop food with a precision that is truly remarkable, and I have never been able to approach the finely detailed work they can do with a good blade. But home cooks don’t have to be that precise; the food we cook does not require an absolute uniformity of size.
The rest of cooking breaks down into measuring and judgment. You have to have a sense of how hot to make a pan, of when to add each ingredient, of when it is done. It takes a little practice, but it isn’t what you would call hard.
I am fully aware that carpenters, say, do not think that what they do is particularly difficult. It’s a little planing, a little gluing, a little work on the lathe. But I would find it nearly impossible. I can’t even hammer a nail into a board without bending it.
The nail, I mean, although I am so inept I could probably bend a board, too.
Maybe, because cooking is what I do, it seems as easy to me as a carpenter building a cabinet. But when people complain to me that a recipe is difficult, they really just mean they think it looks complex, by which they mean it has too many ingredients.
It could take a lot of time, yes, perhaps more than they are willing to commit to a single dish or meal. That I can completely understand. But merely being time-consuming does not mean it is difficult to do, it just means you might prefer to spend your time doing something else.
As you have probably seen, many Web sites and cookbooks rank how hard it is to make a recipe. Typically, they call the recipe easy, intermediate, or moderate or difficult. But I have long noticed that almost none of the recipes is ever judged to be difficult.
Or so I thought until two weeks ago, when I actually ran into a recipe that the Food Network deemed to be difficult. In my defense, it was the 86th recipe the network listed under recipes using jalapeños, so let us conclude that only one out of every 86 recipes is considered difficult.
But is it, in fact, hard to make?
The recipe comes from Guy Fieri, for what he calls Top Notch Top Round Chimichangas. I haven’t made it, but nothing about the recipe appears to take particular talent or ability. You brown beef in oil, add onions, jalapeños, and garlic, and stir in flour that has been seasoned with spices. You simmer that with broth for a couple of hours until the meat can be shredded, and then you shred the meat. Then you put the meat and some beans in a tortilla, roll it like an egg roll, secure it with a skewer, and fry it in hot oil until done. Serve with salsa, tomatoes, sour cream, and cilantro.
That’s all there is to it. Yes, it involves a number of steps, and yes, it calls for 23 ingredients. But anyone with any cooking experience at all could do it, if he or she only took the time. The hardest part is probably rolling the tortilla, but while that step is difficult to explain, it is easy to do.
Some specialized aspects of cooking do take a certain amount of ability and training, such as decorating cakes and making sculptures out of hot sugar. But those aren’t going to be on the final exam; you’ll never have to do them at home.
Everything else is easy. You just have to take a little time, do each step in turn, and concentrate on what you’re doing.
Then again, carpenters probably say the same thing.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.
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