A British Expat’s Guide to Cooking in the U.S.
I quite often tell Brits in America to keep a dictionary handy, and never more so than when cooking. Seriously, a recipe that tells you to grill something means stick it on the backyard BBQ, and an instruction to broil means to place it in the oven under what we would call the grill. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (which fortunately, is the name of the lettuce on either side of the Pond).
Ingredients often have different names here. Although the list is never-ending, some of the more common differences are:
There are also some food names that are specific to different regions such as catsup, which is often used in the south instead of ketchup. Some southern recipe books, particularly those of old family recipes, will also call for oleo; this is an older term for an oil-based butter substitute such as margarine.
Some British food terms will leave Americans baffled: asking how many rashers (of bacon) someone wants for breakfast for example, will leave no clue to your meaning. Other words are almost the same and, after a few years, you may not remember which is which. British toffee is often called taffy, fish fingers are fish sticks, and cornflour is cornstarch. And then there are the words that just sound plain silly, caramel is often pronounced carmel, like this.
Once you’ve got your ingredients sorted out, you’ll need to measure them. The U.S. continues to eschew all things metric so you’ll find most recipes in pounds and ounces. (I know.) If you have hauled British recipe books over here, all is not lost, there are many conversion web sites out there to help avoid culinary disasters. (Just adapt that old carpentry adage – “Measure twice, cut once.”) One of the biggest conundrums for Brits is the ubiquitous cup measurement. This doesn’t mean any old cup from your cabinet; it’s a specific measurement of volume rather than weight, meaning that a cup of flour and a cup of milk will fill the same measuring vessel. You can buy cup measures anywhere that sells cookery or houseware items. Butter is often listed in sticks (weighing a quarter of a pound), and in most cases, that’s how it’s sold. Fortunately, on the side of the sticks of butter are smaller measurements, broken down into 8 tablespoonfuls and their cup equivalency.
When you’re ready to put anything in the oven, you won’t find a Gas Mark number, even if you’re cooking with gas. Most ovens and recipes use degrees Fahrenheit, and again, you’ll find quick converters on the Internet. If you’re cooking on top of the stove you might find yourself looking for a skillet, which is another term for a frying pan. A cookie sheet is simply a flat baking tray and can be used even if you’re not baking cookies, I mean biscuits. Once cooked, you could be told to cover something in Saran Wrap, which might sound like something you’d wear on the beach but is in fact, cling film.
Oh, and prepare to be sorely disappointed with the aforementioned Saran Wrap. It doesn’t cling very well, the proof of this being that they’ve had to come out with a version that is sticky on one side, and elasticated bowl covers that look like hotel shower caps.
Little quiz for older Expat Brits, who was the rather beautiful and sophisticated actress who advertised the qualities of cling film by covering a jug of liquid and turning it upside down above her head? Answers on a postcard please.