A glug and a dollop…

What do you think of those Brits and their chatty, poetical way with instructions?  Whenever I read a Jamie Oliver recipe, I prepare myself for an aggressive style of non-measurement – the “glug” of olive oil, the “knob” of butter.  [To me, a glug is maybe 2-3 teaspoons, a knob is maybe 1.5 tablespoons.  But it tends to vary depending on how dry the pan is, how thirsty the ingredients, how hungry I am…]

I’ve just spent a week testing Nigel Slater (of The Guardian)’s newest book, which is cute and breezy, and keeps the recipes as short as possible by using narrative format, where the ingredients and their quantities are called out right in the paragraph.  (When not indexed in EYB, narrative format is murder on a girl’s shopping list but saves a ton of space.)  Nevertheless, Slater has room to indulge in prosey bouquets like “Leave to quietly bubble over moderate heat till a sort of impromptu creamy juice has developed”.

Nigella Lawson may be the most famous British poet of the plate in our era.  Her style tends toward the sensual, as in “when you prod the centre, you should feel the promise of squidginess beneath your fingers.”  I have mixed feelings about this – sometimes when her act verges on burlesque I get a little turned off.  But I like her recipes and her writerly stylings at least convey a kind of joie de vivre.

In general, I suppose I don’t prefer a clinical style of recipe.  But sometimes you really do need a measurement, a time, a temperature…and if I’m puzzled about that sort of detail and it’s not there somewhere, I really resent it.  How about you?

Post a comment


  • wester  on  October 7, 2014

    I actually feel that often this kind of prose conveys more useful information than "exact" things like time and temperature. I prefer reading that something should be "golden" or "dark" brown, or that you just should start to smell it, or that it should still be slightly wobbly, to reading it should be in a 190 degrees oven for 25 minutes, because the former give me information that shows me if the result is as it should be and the latter does not. Of course sometimes you do need exact amounts, especially if the balance between ingredients matters, and I do agree in that case "glugs" and "knobs" don't give the right kind of information.

  • mr.paul  on  October 7, 2014

    I have observed quite a few people dismiss a relatively simple CI recipe as being "too complex" because of the amount of detail in the recipe. I love detail, but I think the narrative easy going style makes the recipe more appealing to a lot of people who don't love detail. Of course, the recipe still needs to be successful.

  • Jane  on  October 7, 2014

    I'm quite a detail-oriented person (hence why I love baking and desserts) but I do enjoy the chatty style of the authors Susie mentions. That may of course be because I'm a Brit and I can relate to glugs and knobs as measurements, but it's also that I like hearing an author's voice in a recipe. My favorite books and authors all have a strong personal element in their writing – interesting headnotes, chatty and informative text in the method.

  • Bloominanglophile  on  October 8, 2014

    My sideways move from science into pastry was a natural one, as both require a certain amount of precision. However, I have also crossed over and now love to cook savory as well as sweet. I think using terms such as "glugs" and "knobs" helps those of us who are 'measuring-minded' to look past the directions and interpret the recipe how we think is best–which I think makes for a better cook!

  • Foodycat  on  October 9, 2014

    I agree with Wester – "you should feel the promise of squidginess" tells you much more than "bake for 25 minutes" – not all ovens are created equal.

    Sometimes too much precision is limiting!

  • tsusan  on  October 14, 2014

    Enjoying all the comments! It's a huge improvement over "cook till golden" or "cook 5 minutes," that's for sure. And I think that maybe the lyrical style encourages us to be more subjective as cooks; to use our judgement, as many commenters note…when I'm testing a new recipe (which is most of the time), I like both – the approximate measure and the "squishy" description. It makes for a longer recipe, but length has never bothered me…

  • janecarrick  on  October 15, 2014

    I think its interesting that in the first paragraph you say that your interpretation of a glug/knob varies according to how dry the pan is etc, because I am exactly the same but feel that this kind of thing is what is actually teaching me to cook. Over time you realize that the same recipe cooked a dozen times never comes out the same but is none the worse for that!

  • anniette  on  January 29, 2022

    I enjoy “glug” and “splosh” recipe writing. It feels personal, as if I am watching over the writer’s shoulder. I think it helps the reader to become a more intuitive cook. The descriptive prose expresses shades of meaning. If the recipe would work only with more precise measurements, I’m sure the precision would be there. I have always loved narrative recipes in preference to the “Fanny Farmer” list of ingredients and numbered instructions. It feels friendlier and more intimate. I was first inspired to learn to cook well by Mary Cantwell’s EAT column in Mademoiselle Magazine, decades ago; she wrote beautifully descriptive narrative recipes that were and are a joy to read and cook from.

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!