Easy Cooking

5 Easy Approaches To Creating No-Recipe Recipes

Everything good has to start somewhere. Here's why you should begin here.

Published Mar. 15, 2019.

We're all for trends, but only when their main goal is to serve us right. Lately we've noticed that many cooking publications (Hey, NYT Cooking! What's up, Bon App?) are all about no-recipe recipes—and with good reason. No home cook likes to venture to the grocery store only to learn that the cut of beef they had to have for the recipe they printed out isn't available in the store right then. And I don't know about you, but I can't get service at my grocery store for the life of me. As a home cook, I feel frustrated and hopeless in situations like this. 

But I shouldn't have to. Granted, our recipes go through months of development to guarantee you cooking success, but that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to alter a recipe to your liking. If you take the time to read a recipe, you'll notice that it provides you with more than just an ingredient list. Our recipes teach you new methods for cooking different kinds of foods so that when it comes time to cook a one-pan dish, you remember that potatoes will likely take the longest to cook even if you decide to switch up your protein or vegetable.  

I want to be all gung ho and tell you not to follow a recipe, but I can't. Because I also want you to eat well tonight and tomorrow night and every time you cook. With that said, I'm providing you with five recipes that use certain methods to guarantee you success, even if you decide down the line that you want to jazz them up a bit. 

1. Everyday White Rice

White Rice

Everyone should know how to cook white rice without a recipe. But before you get there, to the point where crunchy rice at the bottom of your pot is a choice rather than a mishap, you have to start by mastering our Everyday White Rice recipe.

Any humble home cook knows that perfectly cooked rice can be awfully elusive, but it doesn’t have to be. You just need to take the guesswork out of it. This recipe uses a few key tips to guarantee you success any time you decide you want some white rice.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Use this dish as a bed for some of your favorite dishes, such as smothered pork chops, stir-fries, gumbovegetables, and more. Once you get the hang of our method, you’ll have a truly foolproof no-recipe recipe for your weeknight dinner.

Looking for more simple rice recipes? Try these: Southern-Style Stewed Chicken and Rice, Paleo Cauliflower Rice, Basic Rice Pilaf, Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice, and Chinese Restaurant–Style Rice.

Foolproof Method

Everyday White Rice

It's important to rinse the rice before cooking it to remove excess starch from the grains.
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2. One-Pan Roasted Salmon with Broccoli and Red Potatoes

One Pot SalmonOne Pot Salmon

One-pan dinners are the perfect runners-up for no-recipe recipes. They practically are no-recipe recipes, once you get the technique down. Just pick your protein, starch, and vegetables; cook them all together in one pan; and you'll receive the simple, delicious meal we've promised you. But here’s the thing: If you’ve ever tried to cook a one-pan dinner without a recipe, you’ve likely learned (the ugly way) that food cooks at different rates.

In developing existing test kitchen recipes, we’ve made some key discoveries: Broccoli with nicely browned edges always takes 20 to 25 minutes in the oven, while roasted salmon calls for placing the fillets on a baking sheet preheated in a 500-degree oven and then roasting for 11 to 15 minutes. Don’t forget the potatoes! They take the longest to cook and therefore need the most time in the oven to achieve perfect golden-brown color. To successfully cook a one-pan dinner, you have to make sure your protein, starch, and vegetables cook to the correct temperatures by strategically arranging them on the baking sheet, and in some cases, staggering their cook time.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Master the cooking times for your choice of protein, starch, and vegetables in the oven. Once you do, you'll have the ability to achieve any one-pan dinner you desire.

Looking for other one-pan meals? Check these out: One-Pan Breakfast, One-Pan Meatloaf with Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts, One-Pan Roast Chicken with Cauliflower and Tomatoes, One-Pan Shrimp Pad Thai, One-Pan Sweet Italian Sausage with Polenta, One-Pan Ratatouille with Chicken, One-Pan Steak with Sweet Potatoes and Scallions, and One-Pan Mediterranean Shrimp

Foolproof Method

One-Pan Roasted Salmon with Broccoli and Red Potatoes

Our sharp stir-together sauce of chopped chives, mustard, and lemon adds a fresh note, but feel free to stir up your own version.
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3. Vegetarian Ramen with Shiitakes and Soft Eggs

Vegetarian Ramen with Shiitakes and Soft Eggs

You don’t need a recipe to know how to cook ramen; once you hit a certain age—I’d say about seven for most of us—it just comes naturally to you. However, when you get to your mid-twenties, ramen and its usual seasoning packets no longer bring you the same joy they once did. Thankfully, we are not among those adults who think they're too old to eat ramen (and I’m sure all home cooks reading this right now can agree).

To prove that America's favorite childhood-and-college dish can adult, we jazzed it up with some vegetables and powerhouse Asian ingredients. And let me tell you: It’s good, it’s classy, and it’s easy to make.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Get to know Asian condiments. The sauces and pastes you’ll find in this section of the supermarket inject tremendous flavor into food with virtually no effort on the part of the cook.

Looking for easier noodle-based recipes? Try these: Ginger Beef and Ramen Noodle Soup, Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil, Spaghetti with Sausage and Peppers, Fettuccine with Butter and Cheese, Pasta alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano), Baked Gnocchi with Tomato and Basil, and Basil Pesto

Foolproof Method

Vegetarian Ramen with Shiitakes and Soft Eggs

"It is just so good & easy to prepare!" - Robin C., Cook's Country subscriber 
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4. Easy Grill-Roasted Butterflied Chicken

Grilled Butterflied Chicken

In the summer, we'd rather fire up the grill than heat up our ovens. (Honestly, if we could tackle weeknight dinners with our grills all year long, we likely would.) The grill produces great flavors and great texture without much hands-on work.

Take a look at our Easy Grill-Roasted Butterflied Chicken recipe. It doesn't make you put together a required flavor profile—in fact, the Red Chimichurri Sauce is an add-on at the end. Instead, it teaches you a method to ensure that you can produce even results when grilling a whole chicken. This grill-roasted whole chicken requires minimal attention—and no flipping—on the grill. More important, this is a technique that you'll be glad you discovered.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Make this dish your own by pairing it with your favorite sauce. If you happen not to have one yet, our revolutionary guide Just Add Sauce is a good jumping-off point.

Check out some of these other easy grilling recipes: Grilled Flank Steak with Basil Dressing, Grill-Fried Chicken Wings, Buffalo-Style Grill-Fried Chicken Wings, Husk-Grilled Corn with Brown Sugar–Cayenne Butter, Grilled Eggplant with Yogurt Sauce, and Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus.

Foolproof Method

Easy Grill-Roasted Butterflied Chicken

The bonus? Because we use the butterflying method, the chicken is a breeze to carve.
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5. Brussels Sprout Salad

Shredded Brussel Sprout Salad

Brussels sprouts are finally in, and they have been enjoying their time in the spotlight. In the test kitchen, we’ve learned that it's not that hard to make them appealing. This recipe proves it with two simple steps (if you even want to call them that): Just take a few of your usual salad ingredients to balance the earthy flavors of the Brussels sprouts and toss it all together. Then let it sit for a bit before digging in.

You didn’t see any mention of heating up the skillet to roast the Brussels sprouts, and that’s because this recipe requires no heat whatsoever. This isn’t as unusual as it sounds. We use our test kitchen coleslaw method to soften the Brussels sprouts, making them ideal for eating raw.

TEST KITCHEN TIP: Brussels sprouts can accommodate many flavors. Use our recipe as a starting point. Then, the next time you decide to whip up a Brussels sprouts salad, pick your own add-ins—such as bacon, sunflower seeds, and feta cheese—and pair the salad with your favorite vinaigrette.

Here are some other effortless salads you should try: Lemon, Feta, and Pistachio Spinach Salad; Ultimate Caesar Salad; Lemon Asparagus Salad; Summer Succotash Salad; Minty Sugar Snap Pea Salad; Bibb Lettuce Salad with Yogurt-Dijon Dressing; Simple Tomato Salad; and Chickpea Salad with Fennel and Arugula

Foolproof Method

Brussels Sprout Salad

You can use the slicing disk of your food processor or slice the sprouts with a chef’s knife. 
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