The Challenges of Writing a Recipe

vegetable salad served on table with beef steak in restaurant

I’ve been working on writing a recipe for an Irish stew. My version of the classic stew includes lamb shoulder and a few ingredients per a traditional recipe. Yet, while the method is simple and the ingredients list relatively short, it has proved challenging trying to balance the opinions of others when writing a recipe, the write-up, or serving my family dinner.

Using Experience in Writing a Recipe

I draw on my past experiences and prior knowledge of a specific dish when writing my recipes. For example, I knew what my version of an Irish stew should consist of, having eaten it in a Dublin pub having cooked it at home when I first started cooking and cooking it professionally in various kitchens.

Yet, the biggest challenge I face when writing a recipe comes from a dish I thought I knew well. I’d always assumed it was made with lamb, but some call for beef. Pearl barley is included in several recipes, just not any I’ve followed. So, when researching tradition for the stew, I had to answer questions I’d never considered.

What cut of meat should I use? The traditional neck fillet or the more readily available lamb shoulder or leg? In fact, should I use meat from a lamb, mutton, or kid? Should I use turnips, carrots, or just potatoes? Do I brown the meat? The only thing more greatly varied than the recipes for a traditional Irish lamb stew are the opinions. And which voice matters most? OF course, Irish Stew has many variations, but what version should I present as authentic on my blog?

I’m neither Irish nor know if any previous dishes represented an authentic stew. Yet, it’s a dish of meat slowly cooked for hours with veg until tender enough to eat. It’s hardly enough to offend anyone. However, this challenge applies to all cuisines, and the more obscure the recipes I plan are, the harder it becomes. One day, I’ll run out of dishes I know well, and this blog will require me to push and expand my knowledge of those classic recipes. The problem is I find it hard to bridge the gap between authenticity and using ingredients available to me.

Foreign Ideas and Writing a Recipe

I need an idea before I can start writing a recipe. One of the ways I find ideas is to look at cuisines I’m not familiar with. Last week, I wrote down an idea for an Andorran Escudella. It’s a soup that resembles a stew made with white beans, ham, and beef bones. What possessed me to try this? Nothing other than boredom convinced me to find a dish to write about from every country on Earth. That proved challenging, let alone thinking about publishing something that might be insensitive or incorrect.

So, the biggest question I face when writing a recipe is, how would I represent this dish, having never heard of it or visited the place of its origin? More to the point, should I? I remember the uproar at Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef who has built a career from writing recipes, facing a massive backlash over some of his Inauthentic recipes. I’m referring specifically to his recipe for jerk rice, which had him facing calls to be cancelled for good by the Caribbean community for misusing the word Jerk

For most cultures, food represents the very essence of their identity. To do something with blatant disregard can cause emotional distress, and with good reason. It’s a celebration of their food but an uprooting of their very existence.

Yet, If I stuck to what I knew, I’d soon run out of ideas. If I didn’t, I’d be inundated with work, seeking out new adventures abroad, desperate to try anything and everything I could. Now, as fun as those sounds, it’s just not practical. I have a job and bills to pay, and right now, blogging is just a hobby. It’s supposed to be fun, and for the most part, it is. I tend to overthink what I should blog about. I guess some would call it integrity, others stupidity.

After Doubt Comes the Proof

These questions can drive a person crazy, chasing tradition, flavour, an appealing blog post, and an attractive, delicious, and professional picture. A lot of work goes into planning a post and then posting it, and that’s all after planning how to write a recipe in the first place.

Yet, none of those matters. You can research and find a recipe that pleases everyone from traditionalists to modern tastes, create flavours that dance across the tongue, write a recipe summary worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, and edit it to perfection. The problem is, miss one thing from a photo, one sprig of parsley missing, one smudge on the plate, one small oversight that ruins the photo, the whole visual representation of what your blog posts offer, and then it’s another day’s worth of groceries, another dinner plan, another evening spent cooking the same thing repeatedly.

It doesn’t sound so bad, right? It’s tasty food. But I cook for my family and take pictures. If a recipe doesn’t go well with just one family member, all that research and planning goes out of the window. It’s how you end up with Jerk chicken recipes and sweet potato curries but no rice and peas. It’s all because someone I live with doesn’t like kidney beans. So, all that research goes to waste since I can’t cook some things without upsetting everyone.

And that’s before we get to the comments.

4 responses to “The Challenges of Writing a Recipe”

  1. I find if there are various versions of a recipe then called it Irish style that way you are not treading on anyone’s toes when you make it the way you like it!

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