Everyday Food Blog

How to Improvise: A Cooking Lesson From Sarah Carey

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If you've been watching Sarah's videos you know she's not really a "by the book" kind of cook. Even when the camera is trained on her every move, she's making ingredient swaps, changing the way she does something, or adding a little more sugar or salt, depending on how she's feeling that day. As a recipe-follower myself, I was feeling jealous of her culinary freedom! So I sat her down to get the scoop on her off-the-cuff ways in the kitchen.

Merritt: Clearly your style of cooking is very improvisational. What types of dishes do you almost always improvise?

Sarah: All of them…I'm kidding! Sort of. Really, I almost never use recipes unless I am baking. Pretty much everything else I "just make" or I'll print out a recipe to use as a reference, then totally not follow it.

M: What types of recipes do you NEVER improvise?

S: I can't say that there is any recipe that I won't riff on. I mean, basically that is what I get paid to do: Take any recipe and make a new better version. That kind of defines what we do on a daily basis! There are certain rules you have to follow, but there is a lot more leeway than you might imagine.

M: How can you tell when you've gone too far off-course in the kitchen?

S: When no one touches something we put out on the give away table in the kitchen I know it's something people don't like.

M: What would you say to home cooks who follow a recipe to a T because they're afraid of messing up?

S: Don't be afraid. Change one small thing, for instance one root vegetable for another, or a type of vinegar. Make things taste the way you like and you are never going to be "wrong".

M: Any tips for entry-level improv cooking?

S: Just think about the ingredients and decide if you think they are similar enough. Improvising is mostly about trusting yourself. There are few things that are exact, one-for-one swaps. Subtle timing changes are usually necessary, but you can do it!


So tell us: Are you a recipe devotee, like me, or do you put your own spin on things like Sarah does? 

If you're like me, and aspire to riff in the kitchen, start by customizing a versatile roast chicken. You can stuff it with some fresh herbs, garlic, or lemon slices; use butter OR olive oil and decide what you like best; have a heavy hand with the salt or go lightly, and toss whatever root vegetables you have on hand underneath the bird before roasting. Get off the recipe grid, and let us know how it goes!

Comments (2)

  • avatar

    I use a ton of Sarah's recipes. I also will use them in our Middle School Cooking Class. Everyone of them has been a home run....the students love them and they are easy enough to repeat at home for their own families. Often I will need to change an ingredient either for taste or because of cost or not be able to find it.
    Sarah is correct, cooking is not something to be scared of, embrace it and enjoy it!!!!

  • avatar

    I cook almost entirely from Sarah's videos. In fact my 15 year old daughter has started a recipe book of Sarah's recipes for her hopechest. She is also a vegetarian, I find that Sarah's recipes are versatile for making vegetarian and carnivore meals, now we all eat the same at dinnertime and I only have to cook one meal instead of two. The first thing she asks after school is "Whats for dinner? and the second thing she asks is " Is it Sarah's? Sarah has become a household name around here. Thank you Sarah and EDF for inspiring my daughter and I

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