When you’re ready to cook, take a moment and read your recipe. Though you may want to dive right in without reading, you’ll save time in the end, and probably do a better job, if you know what to expect. Of course, we’re the first to say that you should have fun and experiment in the kitchen; try using different ingredients, add more of something you like or skip something you don’t. But for sure success, follow the recipe and keep in mind the subtle conventions of recipe writing.
The most important convention (that’s probably the least obvious) is that the commas in the ingredient list really matter. For example, when we say “1 pound chicken thighs, trimmed” we mean that you should buy 1 pound of thighs and then trim the fat off them. If, on the other hand, we call for “1 pound trimmed chicken thighs,” you would need to either purchase trimmed thighs or buy more than the 1 pound that we want you to cook. Does it really matter? In some cases no, but those small differences will impact the nutrition profile of a dish and might even affect how something cooks. For instance, if you put too much meat in a stir-fry, you run the risk of overcrowding the wok, causing your meat to stew instead of getting the desired sear. We try to call for ingredients in terms of what you would buy at the market (e.g., 1 small onion rather than 1 cup diced onion). When we call for measures of an ingredient instead of the amount you buy at the market, it’s typically because the amount of that ingredient has a big impact on the way the dish will turn out.