Breaking the rules

Joined Apr 3, 2008
I was inspired by the thread about cheese and seafood being a no-no and thought that there are many culinary rules that I break all the time because I like it better that way. What culinary rules do you break on purpose?

-A big one for me is risotto. I don't like it al dente, I enjoy it much more when it is overcooked and mushy.

-Olive oil - I use it for everything, even deep frying... even for stir-fry... It makes everything taste better to me.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Rule breaking? Well, I often wear white after Labor Day.

Only being partly facicious. The fact is, many of these "rules" are like army policy---nobody knows where they come from, but everybody follows them----until some iconoclast starts blathering about emperors and new clothes. And then we find out that "everybody" actually excluded most people.

It's like the cheese/seafood thing. I'd be willing to bet that a sizeable portion of the Cheftalk community had 1. never heard of it, and, 2. could care less.
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Ha - The Emporer and His New Clothes - one of my favourites from childhood. I could apply that to many people I've met over the years. So full of themselves they can't see the trees for the forest.

My "rule breaker" is not really a cardinal sin. I like to add oil to my pasta water. Yeah, it's probably a waste of good oil and pretty pointless, but I do it anyway. Not very outlandish, but its a habit, and, boy, are habits hard to break.

Any other confessions out there?
Joined Apr 3, 2008
when I was a kid i use to put ketchup with my bologna sandwiches, today I like to add a splash of mayo into a bowl of cottage cheese with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper on it. Dunno if the culinary world cares but my wife assures me I have to be breaking some sort of food law somewhere.:p

i also add oil or a pat of butter to my water when cooking pasta,first deli i worked in started me with that habit.
Joined May 26, 2001
Actually, Marcella Hazan "popularized" the "no cheese with fish" rule long before Scott Conant did, probably even before he was even born. (Unfortunately, I can't find the quote right now.) But even she allows exceptions, such as her tortellini with fish stuffing, which includes Parmigiano-Reggiano.

I believe "rules" are made to be broken, anyway. If it tastes good, it is good. So I mix ethnicities with abandon.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Ultimately, there is only one rule in cooking; if you like it that way then make it that way, regardless of whether "conventional wisdom" says it should be done or not. I guarentee that for every "rule" out there, there are plenty of exceptions that taste great. For a novice cook rules can be great guidelines to help one from creating a disasterous dish, but at other times, ignoring such rules and guidelines can result in a truly remarkable dish.
Joined Oct 18, 2007
For every rule there's an exception.
If there's an exception there is no rule.

Always pissed off my boss when I used that as my explanation for doing things slightly different. :roll:
Joined Jan 27, 2010
Are there really rules in cooking? There are procedures yes, but I don't think they are something we should be strict about. I love mixing different styles of cooking, and most of the times it will turn out well. I guess the rule just depends on your tastebuds and the tasters' judgements.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
There are some rough rules of thumb, but since they're "rough" and "rules of thumb," there are plenty of exceptions. They're mostly useful as guides, rather than absolutes.

There are also some rules of definition, which are less elastic. For instance, "saute" means something fairly specific in terms of how much fat, how hot, how much agitation, etc. By definition, you can't saute in a cold pan, you can't saute in a lot of oil (pan-frying), you can't saute without frequent agitation (that becomes searing) and you can't saute in water instead of oil. Are those rules? I'd say so. You might call it a "procedure," instead. That's fine, as long as we're on the same page.

It's useful to keep healthy senses of humor and humility about all this. There are some very fine cooks who are rigid fundamentalists when it comes to the universal correctness of their rules; and some equally fine cooks who've never met a rule that mattered.

When it comes to helping, I'm all about showing people a technique that works, combinations of techniques and ingredients which harmonize, or a recipe that works -- preferably one that stands alone and works as a springboard for improvisation. My personal cooking follows a similar path with a bit of iconoclasm thrown in.

It's fair to say that it's helpful to learn the rule, the rationale behind it, and develop the skills to make it work -- before breaking it.

Joined Sep 5, 2008
Every art has rules. Music, literature, painting, etc etc. Some of the most successful artists don't mind breaking those rules.

Here's an example:

You can't write a good pop song without a solid chorus.

The Beatles: "Yesterday"
The Police: "Every Breath You Take"
"House of the Rising Sun"
Joined Feb 26, 2007
FF - I concur big time. Art as an example. It is so subjective and not objective in theory, but then you'll get some twat insisting a piece of work is not within the guidelines of this form, etc etc ad naseum.

My daughter has a real talent (not just the mother speaking here, but an objective observer). But her teachers in her final year at college were such snob nosed twats that it has stopped her from pursuing art at university this year. I've encouraged her to begin painting again - I think it helped when I got her to choose where to place the paintings in our new home, which one suited which room for the lighting, the colours etc, and now she has started a new oil-painting project :)

But her sketch pad used to always be about the place, and various grades of pencils, charcoals, this that and the other. No more is it so.

Point being: Rules can choke the inventive mind and spirit. Once the basics are learnt (as BDL says re sauteing etc), the mind is free to create and the hands know what to do.
Joined Apr 3, 2008
Did somebody spike the punch around here? I think I know you guys better than this... you must all be struck with a sudden wave of not caring about rules it seems. I'm pretty sure that if there was a risotto thread named "Help, I don't know how to make risotto" and I gave out advise to overcook it that many fine folks here would object.

Now come on, cough it up. What rules do you break? I like to burn my cookies.

PS - oil in the pasta water? Shaaaaame.
Joined Nov 5, 2007
Oil in pasta water does help keep the boiling bubbles under control, less chance of foaming over. Doesn't really do anything for the pasta.

Wasn't there some food critic or chef who specialized in Mexican stlye cooking and demanded that ground cumin seed should NEVER be put into uncooked salsa?

Joined Sep 29, 2009
I've got three rules:

1: Don't burn the garlic and if you do, throw it out and start over.

2: Don't look at a flambe from above.

3: Drink the wine, not the vinegar.

The rest is all up to taste and my mood.
Joined Oct 18, 2007
Some rules are outdated.
For instance, I eat oysters every June as we join in the annual Oyster Festival.
Joined Aug 15, 2004
One rule I never break is go to Burger King even though "sometimes ya gotta break the rules".

Joined Feb 26, 2007
I especially agree with not breaking rule #2 :eek: Some rules are there for very good reasons.....whereas lots of wine tastes like vinegar anyway. Rule #1 should be set in concrete.

Hmmm, latest rule broken - double dipping with crudite into tzatziki. :blush:
Joined Apr 2, 2007
Ha ha you are so right there. :rolleyes:

I have a rule, table salt is only to flavour the water that veggies are cooked in, otherwise use sea salt, except on potato chips I always use table salt.
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