Cooking: pick your preference

Shrimp and chicken stock and the cajun trinity...

Shrimp and chicken stock and the cajun trinity (bell pepper, onion, celery) for gumbo. Garlic and parsley are also on hand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve learned a lot over the years from watching my favorite chefs on Food Network (many of whom no longer have shows…).  It took me a while to register how frequently all the chefs contradict themselves about the best way to do something.

I’ve seen one grab a box of store-bought chicken stock and tell us we really don’t need to make it from scratch since very good ones are now available in the store.  In other episodes I’ve seen the same woman make stock from scratch while telling us there’s nothing like stock from scratch…

I’ve seen most of them process aromatics (onion, garlic, celery, etc.) in to a pulp, then saute.  I’ve seen the same ones hand dice them while insisting that you must wield a knife and try to get it all the same size, then saute.  I’ve seen the same ones use the grater or slicer on a food processor and discuss the uniformity, then saute.

Eventually I realized the taste as the base of flavor is pretty much the same regardless of which method you use.  I have an odd blood pressure condition wherein it goes down instead of up when I stand; I get more and more light-headed the longer I stand.  So for me the pulse in food process method works well because it’s fast and tastes great and I don’t have to lie down after I do it…

I’ve seen chefs make pasta from scratch and tell us there’s no substitute.  And then the same chefs make lasagna with the no cook variety of noodles and tell us they come out so well there’s no need to make your own.  Same for spaghetti or …  you name the pasta.  Again, the method that involves the shortest amount of time standing works best for me.  And the meals are always good.

Many insist you MUST use a whisk to beat eggs for an omelet or frittata but really a hand mixer — manual or electric — adds the froth you need just as well in far less time and with far less wear and tear on your arm.

When it finally sank in I realized that cooking is so much more malleable than chefs sometimes make it sound.  They have a tendency to discuss whichever method they’re using with a voice of authority and an implication it won’t turn out well if you don’t do it that way.  But since I watch every episode for my faves, I couldn’t miss the many contradictions from one time to another.

I meet a lot of people who are frightened of cooking in part because of those authoritative statements about specific techniques.  The reality is –outside of baking, where some more precision IS often required–for most cooking there are several potential methods and the only thing that really matters is what do you prefer both in terms of ease of preparation and final taste.

There may be some modicum of difference to the taste in one method over another, but let’s be real, most of us aren’t that nuanced in our taste.  I’m looking for rich, layered flavors when I cook, not the most perfect version of the dish I can achieve.  I don’t want to feel like somebody deflated me after I’ve prepared a meal.  So I use whatever method is easier and faster and involves the least time standing as long as the taste comes out good.



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