Monday, February 08, 2016

Understanding HOW to Cook- My Flavour Philosophy

A classic rotisserie chicken, but with apples added and cloves studded along the center of the bird.  This adds not so much sweetness as it does contrasting flavour, plus pungency, to what is can be anywhere from mellow to heavily seasoned fare.
If you are like me and LOVE to try new foods, or are just one of those, "I'll try any food at least once" sort of people, then you sometimes buy "strange" or "odd" things at the grocery store or farmer's market.  I put those words in quotation marks because some of them are not strange or odd necessarily, just something that might be difficult to find- examples are chocolate pasta, funky-looking squash, spinach-chipotle linguine, or chipotle chicken sausage.  So then, how do you cook them, and is there even a point to writing a recipe for or looking up recipes for something you might have to scour around to get your hands on?  Well, with an understanding of 1) your palate and 2) your intended "feel" of the food, the answer is yes.  I have made and intend to post recipes for these sort of dishes, but this post is related to understanding how you cook them, so that you can make similar dishes if you can't find the same thing, or use the recipes as templates or ideas for your own experiments.

Another contrast of flavours: here we have a Mexican classic for fine dining, pork loin wrapped around spinach, boiled egg, and carrot.  What you get is heavy, deep flavour from the pork and a mellow, rather French flavour from the spinach stuffing.  It also creates a feast for the eyes when sliced.
1) Understanding Your Palate
Let's say you have a very mellow palate, similar to Mediterranean cooking, but like pops of flavour, such as those in Indian or Mexican cooking.  You've bought an odd squash, or a flavoured rice or pasta.  How do you cook it?  You have no idea what to do with, say, curry-infused angel hair with red wine infusion and ground fennel.  Well, give it a quick thought over first.  The individual components are mellow, with a string kick from the red wine.  I would first cook the pasta, al dente, then taste it before proceeding.  If you don't know your palate, figuring it out is simple.  Just think of the most delicious meals you enjoy, often, and think: are they flavourful? Mellow?  Pungent? Savoury?  Sweet?  Sour?

That's how we get to fare like chocolate truffles overlaid with rose petals.  The pink edges are a tad bitter, while the rest of the rose is sweet, melts in your mouth, and may as well be candy.
2) Intended "Feel" of the Dish
So, the red wine pasta can be either quite mellow, or quite pungent, depending what you decide when you taste it.  (Note that in this example, the hypothetical cook has never encountered this ingredient before and has zero clue how to use it.)  If I decide I want a very mellow feel, I might make a sauce with butter, white wine, and maybe chicken or next to some fish.  the interaction of the white wine and red whine will give the dish a kick.  Or maybe I am tired, and don't want to do much.  add some olive oil to the hot, just-rinsed pasta, add some parsley or rosemary, and toss well.  Done.  Or, I want a super spicy, pungent dish.  Make a sauce from red wine, beef broth, and cut in cherry tomatoes and chile de arbol, ground up.  You'd ĉoose something like this because you would understand that you like either s gentle flavour, a gentle flavour with pops of taste, or a super flavourful tastebud attack.  And you would pick accordingly, depending what you wanted in your end meal.

Thus you can figure out what do to with something like squid ink linguine without stuffing it into the back of the pantry out of perplexed guilt.  This is cauliflower, shrimp, and peas tossed with teriyaki mushroom sauce before adding the al dente calamari linguine.
In this way, you figure out how  to cook.  Because knowing how to cook is different from being taught to follow a recipe.  Measurements are estimations, how low to cook, how long to cook, what temperature, the type of pan, stove versus oven versus grill, dtc. are all things you learn and understand as you go.  So how to cook.  Well, first you have to understand, or be beginning to understand, the the bullet point headings above.  So let me give you some pointers I've found over the hears, as well as tips that may fit your lifestyle for quick meals or meals you can let sit as you work.  So from now on, I'll not only put full recipes, but also recipes that are more like guides, for just sauces or creams, and provide ideas on how to serve them.

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