Teach me How to Cook
Someone at work asked me to teach her to cook and I am forced to consider both what and why I cook what I do.
When I sat down and considered how to reply I wrote this to myself. Perhaps it will be interesting.
I believe in full flavor. I use animal fats as seasoning as well as butter. If a whole milk cheese is available that is what I will use. Seasoning meats like smoked ham hocks, smoked pork necks, and bacon are always available and used often.
All animal parts should be used. In addition to necks and hocks, feet provide good flavor and body. Bones are wonderful both for flavor and the wonderful marrow they can provide. In pork, I prefer the fatty shoulder and shoulder butt to the lean loin for the extra flavor. The pork skin is left on and often set aside as a special treat.
Chicken thighs are more flavorful than the lean bland breast. I like to poach the thighs for a ready source of protein that can be used in many ways. The skin is usually saved to be fried by itself for that unctuous treat.
Low and slow is preferred to fast. I believe it lets the flavors to reach their full potential and the time is irrelevant.
Leftovers are your friend. Almost anything can be repurposed into a new dish. It is an art in itself to make something new out of something already cooked.
Mexican food and that of the American South are my comfort zone.
Spicy is wonderful. Peppers are my friend, they each bring their own flavor if used judiciously.
Fresh ground spices are best. Toasting brings out their hidden richness. Fresh ground peppercorns are always the way to go. Grinding salt at the end of the cook reduces sodium use and tastes great.
Equipment does not have to be elaborate. One 10 inch skillet and a medium large saucepan can do most everything. Stainless steel is the way to go and tri-ply works great. If possible, keep just one nonstick pan for eggs only. A large stockpot is very useful and if SS can be used in the oven. Glass is best for storage. It is easy to clean and does not hold flavors. A small mortar and pestle is very for whole spices. You usually don’t need a dedicated spice grinder.
Staples like eggs, butter, milk, cheeses, flour, corn starch, sugars, dried fruit, a full spice rack, soy sauce, various oils including olive oil, vinegars, beans, potatoes, pastas, rices, dried chilis, hearty bread, yogurt, and fresh veggies make planning and the unplanned much easier to achieve. Onions, garlic (crushed), should always be available. Try shallots, leeks, spring onions, torpedo onions, and anything else you see.
Spices: Salts, peppercorns, dried and/or granulated onion and garlic, cumin, coriander, cinneman, clove, allspice, chili powder, cayenne. Dried peppers like ancho, guajilo, japonaise, and California, New Mexico each have their own flavors. Hot chilis like serrano, habanero, and Thai add the heat.
Look online for recipes that are interesting. The first time, try to follow exactly. Take notes about flavors and adjust as your taste directs you. The next time, try altering one thing at a time until you arrive at your recipe. Be not afraid of failure, it happens. Everyone’s palate is unique. I start most deserts with ½ of the amount to sugar called for.
Try the ethnic markets, luckily I have them all. Mexican, Asian, Middle Eastern, they will carry a variety of unique ingredients to try out. If you find them, buy duck eggs or quail eggs to compare.Trader Joe’s has a great cheese section.
For the incipient cook:
Filipino Chicken (pork) Adobo
Five hour chicken
Chicken and dumplings
Poached chicken and its wonderful stock
Pasta with arugula, feta/goat cheese and chicken or shrimp
Chicken (pork) Posole
Chicken with garlic black bean sauce and spinach
Stuffed bell peppers or tomatoes
Risotto, yes risotto, it’s not that hard
Oatmeal walnut raisin cookies
Pumpkin sweet potato pie
Roasted potato salad
Jicama with lemon
Teach me how to cook indeed. I do have an position open for a scullery maid but that is a different story.