Cooking Without a Net, and Loving ItFeb 10th, 2017 | By Cecilia | Category: show tips
For some people, cooking without a recipe is like walking a tightrope without a safety net. It’s a terrifying experience, and one that may end badly if the cook doesn’t land each step perfectly.
Whereas, other cooks relish the opportunity to free themselves from the constraints some recipes put on them, choosing instead to succeed of fail on their own terms.
Consider this: what if failing–whether you preferred structure or freedom–wasn’t an option?
What if by simply using a list of complimentary flavors you were able to build dishes that were always balanced and delectable? That’s what you get when you cook with The Flavor Bible or the Vegetarian Flavor Bible, written by James Beard award-winning food writer, Karen Page and her husband and photographer, Andrew Dornenburg.
Preparing a dish using only a list of compatible flavors as your guideline may seem daunting. But if you take your time, and pay attention to ingredients–especially those in bold (which means the ingredient plays well with the ingredient you have in mind) and BOLD CAPS (which means, it doesn’t just play well with your ingredient, it LOVES it and brings out the best in it)–as well as read the lists of “flavor affinities” and the tips and sidebars, you can hardly go wrong.
Granted, you are in charge of amounts. That’s where taking your time comes in. Just because an ingredient, such as apples, has an affinity for cinnamon, using too much cinnamon can ruin the dish. So always work in increments and taste along the way.
I use both books, and LOVE how Karen Page put together lists of “flavor affinities.” This saves so much time. Before I noticed them (because I am always anxious to jump in and get started), I ended up spending way too much time looking up one ingredient after the other to ensure that the herb I was using with the meat or vegetable I was cooking, for example, also played well with the next flavor I wanted to use. And then I had to see if THAT flavor also had feelings for the original item that started my scavenger hunt. Whew!
Using the affinities lists changed all that and got me cooking faster.
So be on the lookout for strings of words like this (from The Vegetarian Flavor Bible):
apples + allspice + cinnamon + cloves + ginger + maple syrup + orange
blue cheese + apricots + balsamic vinegar + celery + hazelnuts
mushrooms + breadcrumbs + chives + garlic + olive oil
So the first item in the string is your main ingredient, and what follows are flavors that not only enhance your main ingredient, but also play well together with all the other flavors in the list to create a party in your mouth.
Granted, even with flavor affinities spelled out for me, I actually like to search through the book. I feel like a flavor detective, looking for likely suspects.
So don’t be afraid to cook without the net of a recipe. Releasing your reliance on recipes can make you a more confident and creative cook.