Unfortunately, most recipes are geared towards families of four to six. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, leftovers can be good. And when you’re cooking for one or two a freezer can be your best friend. Nevertheless, there are times when you want to reduce a recipe and fortunately, that’s not particularly difficult.
- Do the easy part first: The first step in scaling a recipe down is dividing the easy measurements by however much you’re reducing the recipe. For example, if a recipe that serves four calls for one cup of chicken broth, simply divide by two; piece of cake. If the recipe is for six, then divide by three and use 1/3 cup of broth.
- Convert and reduce: Some measurements will be more difficult to reduce. Let’s say the recipe is for six and calls for 1/2 cup of chicken broth. The key here is to change the measurement to one that’s easier to divide evenly.
1 cup = 16 tablespoons = 48 teaspoons
1/2 cup = 8 tablespoons = 24 teaspoons
Eight tablespoons doesn’t divide evenly by three, but 24 teaspoons divided by three equals 8 teaspoons. Use a conversion chart if you’re unsure of the equivalent measurements.
- Estimate and taste: Keep in mind that, unless you’re baking, recipes should be regarded more as guidelines than strict rules. If a recipe serves six and calls for two teaspoons of thyme, instead of dividing by three add 1/2 a teaspoon of thyme to the dish, taste, and add a pinch or two more if it needs it. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is, whether you’re cooking for two or twenty, to under-season and then taste and adjust.
- Choose the right pot: In general, when reducing a recipe you don’t shorten cooking times, but you may want to reduce the size of your cooking utensil. This is because the size of the pot can effect cooking times. Pour 1/2 a cup of stock in a ten-inch skillet over medium high heat and it will evaporate more quickly than it would in a six-inch skillet.
In general, if you’re actually cooking a piece of meat or vegetable in liquid, then you may want to use a smaller vessel. If you’re simply reducing a liquid for a sauce, then size seldom matters.
- Down-size your baking dishes: It’s worth investing in a couple of small baking dishes and casseroles because if you cut a recipe in half and try to bake it in too large a dish it can overcook, not cook enough, or dry out.
- Don’t automatically reduce all ingredients: If you’re cooking something in oil (a sauté) then skillet size isn’t critical, but if you don’t reduce the skillet size then don’t reduce the amount of oil called for; you still need to coat the bottom of the pan.