When recipes go wrong

People! I have NEVER been so angry in the kitchen before EVER.

I tried this ultra simple recipe because I wanted to experiment with large tapioca pearls. It’s just as well I can’t find the website where I got it, because I would click over and rant, and probably I should not. Ranting on the internet = ugly, imo. On the other hand, CAPS LOCK OF RAGE are sometimes perfectly appropriate, as in this post.

The recipe was similar to this one, though. And this one is setting you up for the same problem I experienced. Here is the recipe:

Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a saucepan. Add 1/3 cup large tapioca pearls, partially cover and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pearls are translucent, about 40 minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk, 2 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt until dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

You see, extremely simple. What could go wrong?

The version I used called for simmering some tapioca pearls in a liter of water for 20 minutes until transparent, draining and rinsing the pearls, then adding coconut milk, rock sugar dissolved in a little water, and a pinch of salt. See, very simple and easy and quick. What, I ask again, could possibly go wrong?

Well, I’ll tell you what. If you simmer tapioca pearls without CONSTANT STIRRING, they will CEMENT themselves to the bottom of your most expensive All Clad pan. A WARNING WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE. And twenty minutes is nothing like enough — the recipe I posted above, suggesting 40 minutes, is still not long enough. No, you will tie yourself up stirring the tapioca for SEVENTY FIVE MINUTES, after which some of the pearls will STILL have uncooked centers. And forget draining and rinsing. The pearls that do cook through will turn into goo. There is no way to “drain and rinse” goo. If your recipe needs a particular size or brand of tapioca pearls to work, YOU MIGHT CONSIDER MENTIONING THIS.

Okay. I added coconut milk and jaggery (rock sugar) and a pinch of salt to my tapioca goo, and actually it was not bad. A sharp fruit would go well with this. The recipe I linked above suggests mango, which is good in desserts of this kind. I swirled plum puree into mine, which was nice.

And soaking the pan in vinegar overnight de-cemented the cooked-on tapioca, for which I am very grateful.

But still, GOOD LORD, PEOPLE. If you don’t know how write a recipe properly, leave it to those of us who understand the importance of specifying exact ingredients and cooking times and methods.

I have one more package of tapioca pearls, btw. I have this Indian recipe for savory fritters that use tapioca pearls, if I have the nerve to try it. At least I trust Julie Sahni to write a recipe that works!

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4 thoughts on “When recipes go wrong”

  1. I remember making tapioca pudding long ago and having to plan it ahead of time so the tapioca could soak for a couple hours before making the pudding. And that was with small tapioca. I liked the texture, I should make it again.

    How odd that the recipes got it so wrong. …. just did a search on how to cook large pearl tapioca. This one seems foolproof, but I wouldn’t want to do it, particularly: 1) 8 cups water, to 1 cup pearl. 2) boil water. 3) add tapioca and stir till it floats to top (reminds me of cooking pasta, actually) 4) cover with tight lid and cook (hopefully not boiling over) for exactly six minutes. 5) stir. 6) replace lid for another six minutes at the same heat. 7) turn off stove & let sit for 20 minutes. 8) fill large bowl with ice water. 9) remove tapioca from hot water & put in ice water, leaving it there for 5-10 minutes. 10) drain through colander/strainer and let drip for 5-10 minutes.

    And now you can continue your recipe.

  2. Ouch! For oddities like this, I use the “how to cook X” or “how to make X”.
    I found the same page as Elaine that way, and I finally learned how to make proper caramel for flan. But I agree, the initial recipe is extremely misleading.

  3. The thing is, you have to know enough to guess that you need something beyond what the recipe says, and this was an unknown unknown for Rachel. Been there, Done That, but for me, the last time was saffron. Nothing in the recipe or elsewhere said to grind it with a little salt before adding to the food.

  4. Elaine, thanks for posting those directions! I hadn’t gotten around to looking for actual reliable directions yet. And yes, the reason it was so maddening is that if the recipe basically says tapioca pearls should be cooked like rice, why should I doubt it? Not to mention I thought I might have ruined my pan.

    Also: yes on the saffron. Tons of recipes say add a pinch, but relatively few say “dissolve in hot water first” or “grind with salt first”, and it is a real shame to waste saffron by just adding it straight. I certainly did waste my share before I found out you always have to prep it before adding it to a recipe.

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