Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cooking Basics. It's the Little Things.

photo by mrjoro / flickr

I believe a good cooking philosophy is this: fundamentals first, or metaphorically, you can't build a good house on a bad foundation. It's a simple idea but it works, and even professionals forget it.

For example, I was in a nice restaurant the other day and ordered a large salad with chicken for lunch. As it was being served, the greens looked beautiful and the chicken just right. When I began eating my salad I noticed immediately that the plate and the greens, that is the salad itself, were at room temperature . . . in the summer. So all the expensive ingredients added up to a bad meal because the easiest part of it, keeping the lettuce cold, was considered unimportant. Who likes warm lettuce?

Same thing with soup. I had a bowl of soup last week at the Corner Bakery. It too was room temperature or a little above. I know they can't serve it scolding hot, like I prefer, but barely warm enough to consider warm just isn't right.

So you want to be a good cook? Get the little things right first, then move on to the more complex. In Asian food, it's knowing how to cook rice, something I can not do very well, even though my wife does it perfectly every time, and has showed me how to do it. In Italian food, get the pasta right (I can do that). If it's too sticky, too squishy, or cold, I don't care about how good the sauce is you have bad spaghetti.

Breakfast? Eggs, should be served very hot, but not dried and over-cooked, which is why at good buffets they are made to order. A good sandwich starts with good bread. Add a good meat and cheese. Guess what? You have a great sandwich.

It's really pretty simple. Keep the hot foods hot, the cold foods cold, have good ingredients and the tastes take care of themselves. That's my untrained view of things.

Now there is one more ingredient to a good meal, and it is an old proverb, "better a morsel of bread in peace than a feast with dissension." No matter what the food tastes like, you can't have a good meal with people who don't get along, and conversely, even poorly prepared food is enjoyable when the diners enjoy each others company (especially with a good supply of wine).
Corollary and final thought: gratefulness improves everything. If the food is cooked in a home, and I am a guest, it all tastes good.

Food critics are for restaurants not homes.


Anonymous said...

I would agree with everything you state... especially using fresh ingredients. Please don't serve me an ear of "grilled corn" that was previously frozen... gross!

That's key!

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks, and right it's hard to go wrong with good ingredients.

cartoon thought bubble:
(now if I can just get him to reconsider that Obama guy.) :)

delimama said...

We couldn't agree more as this is one of the principles behind the great German/American deli we will open in the Cultural District next Spring. You might enjoy reading our blog ( and we hope you will join us then for a German platter of meats, cheese and bread as well as shop our grocery department.

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks for the information and we will.

Nick M said...

Absolutely right FS.

The number of cooks who get the hot/cold thing wrong (or rather don't give it the thought it deserves) is astonishing.

Something I'd never thought of really before. Experienced, done and eaten but never really thought of.

Francis Shivone said...

Thanks for chiming in Nick. The first element of taste is temperature because you can sense it prior to tasting. When I am handed a "to go" cup of coffee, I know how hot it is before tasting. Sight is next (and sometimes first), because then I pour in the cream and if it doesn't swirl like little clouds I know it is not fresh. Then again, maybe I'm a little weird when it comes to these things.

Nick is a thoughtful commentor to The Whited Sepulchre blog, see link on F&FW.