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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The basic stewing technique

I have a couple of problems about following recipes: first is the regimented requirement of all the ingredients, even though in many cases some flexibility is allowed. And secondly, recipes fail to capture the fundamental techniques that make for great cooking. That is why, armed with the same recipe, two people can produce radically different dishes (except, maybe, for some baking). Moreover, some dishes aren't amenable to being captured in a recipe description. For example - the basic French omelette or a really good teh tarik. But once in a while, you can distill the fundamentals out of a series of recipes as examples.

Like the stew. Which is fundamentally the same idea as many meat curries or braises - the idea of serving some kind of meat or protein cooked in a flavorful and savory sauce. The basic idea is to start with a large heavy pot with some oil, browning the meat of choice in the oil and creating a fond (that is, enhancing the Maillard reaction to caramelize proteins). Remove the meat (and excess oil), and cook down some aromatics. If making an Indian style curry, that means putting in dry spices to build a masala, but in its simplest form, some onions and garlic will do. Then some aqueous liquid is added when the aromatics have cooked to form, to dissolve the fond, and the create the sauce base. European cooking tends to favor using wine, and often stock or broth is used. I favor the use of crushed tomatoes, or coconut milk, or even water (sometimes with some ground dried mushrooms in it). Stir vigorously, allow to cook a bit before returning the meat to the pot. Various vegetables can also be added, or dumplings.

Subsequent simmering will produce the final dish. Salting and the addition of acid can then adjust the flavor a bit.

This same basic technique can apply to almost any wide range of meats, from snails to oxtail, and forms the basis of dishes from adobo to tagines.

1 comment:

  1. I look at recipes the same way I look at molecular biology protocols. Get a good protocol. You do it once the way it's written - if it works, then you can start tweaking the protocol. If the protocol is for something related to something I do a lot, I might even tweak it before I do it the first time. But as a starting point, I'm always a recipe man.