In No-Recipe Recipes (Ten Speed, Mar.) Sifton, founding editor of NYT Cooking, envisions the future of recipes.
In your own words, what is a no-recipe recipe?
A no-recipe recipe is a narrative recipe where I talk through a meal’s preparation conversationally. I don’t use exact measurements, so there’s freedom built into its structure and I hope that you make it your own. I have no expectation that the recipes will turn out the same for everyone—and that’s what makes them delightful.
Without measurements, how did you test the recipes?
I create no-recipe recipes weekly for the NYT Cooking newsletter and have a notebook where I record my cooking during the week. I freestyle a recipe, take notes on it, then cook it again using my notes to see how it works. I pay attention to my inbox as well. A lot of NYT Cooking readers will send in observations of how theirs went.
What is the future of NYT Cooking and how does this book fit into it?
NYT Cooking has had a phenomenal year. It’s been a terrible year for the world, but it’s seen more people cooking at home. Publishing a site like NYT Cooking that helps people with that is a real privilege for me and my colleagues. I’m most interested in what the future of recipes may be since we’re constantly experimenting with the form. To me, recipes are sheet music that allow you to play a melody, while a no-recipe recipe is like a chord chart that gives you a rough outline to fill in as you like. It has roots in restaurants where chefs speak in shorthand to cooks who can make phenomenal meals from a few barked instructions. It also comes from family and the generational oral histories of recipes.
Did previous NYT cookbook authors like Craig Claiborne inspire you?
NYT Cooking itself is a tribute to Craig Claiborne. His book was a bestseller when the Times was hardly even a regional paper. Yet thousands of home cooks picked it up and benefitted from his hard work and reporting. This cookbook draws from a slightly different tradition. I drew a lot of inspiration from people like Elizabeth David and Laurie Colwin, who are essentially narrative recipe writers.
If you were a dessert, what would you be?
Let’s see, I think I would be a piece of apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top. It’s pretty American, and I’m pretty American. And the cheddar adds a nice savory note at the end.