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The other day I was having a terrible time figuring out how to brown chicken for fajitas in a pan without drying it out (something about my temperature just wasn't working). My spouse came into the kitchen and for the next batch put a bit of liquid in the pan, put a lid on, and everything worked great. When I asked my spouse why, the answer was "cooking intuition." I'd like to get an idea of how I can develop more cooking intuition, but I'm not sure if this question would be too broad or too unhelpful for other cooks. I'd be looking for websites, book resources (I've heard The Flavor Bible before and am reading through Ratio), tips on practicing, ideas for questions to ask other cooks I know, etc. Could this be a useful question?

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I do understand where you're coming from; I think we all know the feeling we get where things just make sense and seem obvious, vs. the times when we seem to have to be spoon-fed everything, and intuition is a convenient word for describing it.

But that's exactly what "intuition" really is; a label we slap on after the fact for a feeling or flash of insight we had earlier, which probably came from a combination of experience, creativity, and random neural firings.

I've seen many similar topics on other forums that go something like, "What do you do for inspiration?" or "How do you get inspired?" and it's a very similar thing, to me. If you're doing something creative - like, say, writing music, then inspiration is another label we slap on to describe a little bit of ambition, a lot of hard work, and maybe just a tiny amount of luck thrown in for good measure.

The thing is, you can't actively develop intuition any more than you can inspire yourself. You can only use those words to describe something that's already happened. Sarge_smith is right to say that it comes from experience; I'd add that a variety of experience as well as a very keen memory are also important ingredients, but even with all of those things, some people just take a long time to start working intuitively.

I can tell you from personal experience what doesn't lead to intuition, and that's using recipes as a crutch. But of course, I don't know if you do that or not, and regardless, it's not really an answer to your question.

I'd also add that it's almost always easier to think up a solution for a problem when it's not your problem. A lot of what people call "intuition" is, ironically, just perfectly rational thinking done by somebody with no serious emotional investment in the consequences. But again, that's not really an answer to your question if you're asking how to be more intuitive.

I'd probably leave the question open just out of morbid curiosity - hey, maybe there's something really crazy and amazing that I would never in a million years have thought of - but I doubt you'd get those kinds of answers, if they even exist. And if I later saw the same question accumulating dozens of half-baked answers then I'd definitely consider closing it at that point.

It's not that I don't like the question - I've just seen so many like it by now that I'm pretty sure I know what the outcome will be. For all the massively-duplicated "what makes a great programmer?" questions we had on Stack Overflow, I never saw any indication that any of them actually led to greatness.

  • thanks, that makes a lot of sense. I think I'll skip it for now and keep thinking, keep reading, keep cooking instead. – justkt Sep 1 '10 at 19:55
  • @justkt yeah, this is what I would have wrote if I was better with the words. – sarge_smith Sep 1 '10 at 23:56
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I don't see a problem with it. If you're asking for lists of resources it should be created as a CW. Also make sure you qualify it appropriately so that it doesn't cover the exact same ground as our other resources questions.

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    +1 agreed; it is a little more subjective than most, but fine in my book. intuition, after all, is really just a name for objective processes that we don't have full insight into the workings of. – Michael Natkin Sep 1 '10 at 15:20
  • @Michael - if you have any suggestions on how to tighten this up into a list of objective processes that might go into intuition, maybe it'd make a better question? – justkt Sep 1 '10 at 18:48
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    Despite giving this answer I also upvoted both sarge and Aaronut's. – hobodave Sep 1 '10 at 20:32
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I respectfully disagree here. How can you teach it? How can learn it? "cooking intuition" is a product of time spent in the kitchen and the only way to get it is to spend the time. There isn't any objective way to rate any answers that you might get to this question. It just seems like it is the broadest possible question, similar to "how do I trouble shoot my dishes".

  • the thing is, in this case I've been in the kitchen probably more than my spouse (OK, spouse is older, but as a domestic type of person I tend to do the housework from preference, including the majority of the meal planning and cooking), yet my spouse has the intuition and I don't. My spouse had a passion good food for longer than I have, but other than that, I don't know a difference and I'm trying to isolate it. I see your point, but I'm trying to find a way to close the gap on "intuition" – justkt Sep 1 '10 at 18:47

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