I really want to impress upon you the value of technique in the kitchen. I’m not exactly referring to cooking-school-technique. Remember, my heart is loyal to the farmer peasants. I’m just talking about a general knowledge of how to cook things. Specifically, how to cook things The Best Way (according to YOU and your family). What are the basic techniques required to make a soup? What is the best way to roast potatoes? How do I pan fry a steak to perfection? What’s the oil/acid ratio in a vinaigrette?
A good place to start is the Cook’s Illustrated New Best Recipes anthology. The Bon Appetit website is also good for finding techniques. Another fabulous book for learning this stuff is the popular Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat. I make the roast chicken in Nosrat’s book once a week.
The reason I value technique so much is because I cook with what’s available in the garden and I don't always have the same ingredients on hand throughout the year. I have to be flexible. But meal planning is not flexible. Remember that tension from the previous posts?
Knowing a technique allows me to maintain the structure of a dish but also it allows me to be creative and make accommodations or substitutions based on what I have in the garden or pantry. If I know how to make a gallette (a free form open-faced savory or sweet pie), in summer it will be filled with tomato and Manchego and oregano and the winter it will be filled with butternut squash and Gruyere and thyme.
Technique accommodates variation.
This is how I stay sane but maintain creativity as I meal plan and cook for hoards of people throughout the year. And eventually, the techniques you adopt will become committed to your memory and everything will get even easier.
Being meal-centered around a garden never gets old. I will never ever ever grow tired of the first tomato of the season, and I will always hoard the eggplant every year and mourn the end of the leeks every fall. The fruits of a garden offer a great amount of culinary inspiration.
Today I'm going to give you my basic vinaigrette salad dressing technique. Who makes salad dressing, you might ask? You will, because it’s easy and takes five minutes and you can control the ingredients and the flavor and best of all, you eliminate buying and discarding plastic packaging. I’m compelling, yes?
You should be tasting this throughout the concocting process. It helps you discern the different flavors and the impact they give to the whole.
Try to get the best quality and freshest ingredients you can afford. It makes a difference in the flavor.
1 part. Oil
3 parts. Acid (there’s debate these days on whether acid should be 2 pts. or 3 pts. I say use your tongue to solve the debate. I prefer 3 pts)
Dash of sweet (honey, brown sugar, maple syrup, whatever)
Dash of pungeant or Umami (grainy mustard, Soy sauce, garlic, shallots, anchovies)
Dash of intrigue (grated orange peel, whole coriander seeds, any fresh herb)
Salt and pepper
Throw all ingredients into a wide mouth mason jar (quart or pint depending on how much you’re making) and then, if you have an immersion blender, put the stick right in the jar and blend until emulsified. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can just shake the jar, but then you will have to mince your ingredients with a knife to ensure proper flavor distribution. As far as I’m concerned, the oil, acid, salt, and pepper are non-negotiable. You can play around with the rest of the ingredients. Make a big quantity of this at one time to last a week.
Here’s my favorite basic combination: Olive oil, balsamic, mustard, garlic, soy sauce, and honey.