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How To: Cook Like a Giant

June 2, 2010

Food doesn’t just sustain life for me.  Food is life.  It can be the break in the clouds on a rainy day, or a joyful punctuation to a celebration.  But why don’t I put recipes on my blog?  Because I don’t really use them.  Never have.  I’ve always looked at cooking as jazz in the kitchen.  Just go with the flow.  I call it cooking with your senses.

Here’s how.

First things first: know your basics.

No one has ever just walked up to a piano and grooved out like Oscar Peterson.  You need to build out your chops, get the techniques down pat.  What we’re doing here is building your toolbox of techniques – a place where you can reach in and combine with others when it’s finally showtime.  At the least, know how to:

  • Handle a knife properly.  Know how to slice, dice, julienne, section, and skin with ease.  Easy cooking flows from easy prep.
  • Use the stove and oven.  You can get by doing most anything by knowing how to sear, pan fry, saute, boil, blanche, roast, broil, and braise.

Last thing – have a well stocked spice cupboard.  Want some suggestions?  My most used spices and flavourings in the cabinet are:

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Red chilli flakes
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Paprika
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Bay Leaves
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Sesame Oil
  • And my pantry is always stocked with onions and garlic

Now lets cook.

Start with a focal point. I always pick a main ingredient that I want to make the most special on the plate.  And it’s always going to be a meat for me (and you are Paleo, so, yes, meat is a good start).  Let’s pick pork chops for this example.

Associate a feeling, or “colour”, with the focal point. When I think of pork chops I think of rich, crispy fat.  Succulent, slightly sweet meat.  I think of warm food on an autumn day, or seared and sizzling on a hot summer day.  I think a deep mahogany.  It’s cold outside, let’s go autumn.

Choose a technique. How are you going to cook that bad boy?  Well, they’re chops – perfectly thin enough to broil or pan fry.  You wouldn’t … boil them, would you?  Heck no!  I want crispy fat, let’s pan fry.

Open up your spice cabinet. We’re thinking warm, rich flavours.  Mahogany, right?  Salt and pepper, for sure.  It’s the base of our spice mix, and always should be.  Basil and oregano … too grassy, too light.  Cinnamon would work.  So would cumin and chilli flakes.  And garlic powder, how could we forget that?  A perfect bite and warmth.  Mix the spices in a bowl, don’t just dump them onto the meat.  Think in ratios: “I want it just a little spicy, a cinnamon overtone but not like I’m sucking a cinnamon stick, a little garlicy, but mostly some warmth of cumin, Middle Eastern style”.  Take a pinch and put it in your mouth.  Re-evaluate.  Tastes like junk?  What is it missing?  Fill in those gaps with your imagination.  (There’s a surprise ending to this, so read on).

Think about complimentary dishes.  Use that same feeling; think warmth and richness.  You can emphasize that warmth and richness with more warmth and richness.  But you can also highlight a flavour by putting it against a flavour that is its opposite: bitter, sweet, salty, sour.  What would work to accentuate this piece of pork, with those flavours?  What about sweet potatoes?  They’re warm, rich, just a hint of sweetness (remember, pork has a bit of sweetness to it).  And we need a vegetable: broccoli.  Green, fresh – the opposite of what you think of with pork and sweet potatoes, while at the same time being a dark enough green to still match up to the flavours of the food it will be paired with.

Now rinse and repeat the flavour and “colour” associations with your side dishes.  Sweet potatoes: mashed, with nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon (its in the pork, can’t go wrong with mirroring that flavour), and *lots* of butter.  The broccoli: blanched so they’re cooked but still green and with some crunch, sauteed with a bit of garlic and onions sweated in butter until they’re translucent and a little sweet.

There you have it, a meal fit for any occasion.  But there’s something missing.  That flavour combination I have is just missing a little … something, right?  Ok, you see those wonderful brown bits at the bottom of the pan you did the pork in?  That’s concentrated essence of pork awesomeness.  While the pan’s still hot, dump some apple juice into it, and put it back over medium-ish heat.  Yes, apples – sweet, rich, warm, autumn apples.  The juice will reduce into a wonderful rich sauce.  Add a whack of butter, because you can’t go wrong with more butter.  Pour that over the meat after it’s been plated.  There.  *Now* the meal is complete.  If I were to put this on a menu, this is what I’d say:

Butterfly chops on a pomme jus reduction, served with spiced sweet potato mash and sauteed broccoli.

Too fancy?  Well, I think some warm, unsweetened apple sauce instead of our high-falutin “pomme jus” will do just fine.

Now eat (and don’t forget to gnaw the bones clean).

Cooking can be scary at first.  There’s knives, flames, crazy noises.  Just stay calm.  You know what tastes good.  You put things that taste good on other things that taste good.  Stands to reason the end result will taste good.  Start small – cook with what you know.  That’s why I picked pork chops, sweet potatoes, and broccoli for the example.

Then, just like jazz music, you can start to throw your own touches onto the dish.  Different focal points, different sides, different spices, different “colours”.  What happens if we shifted our focal point to one of the sides, like the sweet potatoes?  What if I wanted to really juxtapose flavours, like warm and sour?

Why don’t you find out?

Vi sees.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2010 4:17 pm

    Can’t subscribe via the RSS button. Says “invalid feed.”

    Good info, though. I am a seat-of-the pants cook. “Some” is my favorite measurement :-)

    • June 2, 2010 4:21 pm

      I use some very Jamie Oliver expressions when cooking, so I agree with “some”. Try the RSS icon again. If that doesn’t work, look for an RSS tab in the address bar of your web browser.

      Cheers,

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