27 February 2014

On spreading too thin

I've just done a stir-fry. It was awful. The meat was tough, the veg was/were soggy, the noodles were meaningless, and the sauce... less said the better. We ate it, of course. And I'll repeat three or four times a year—just often enough to think, "We haven't had a stir-fry for a while—that would be something different!" and too often to realise that there is a good reason for the infrequency.

And indeed for several months I have been accumulating the data for a spreadsheet which will optimise the variety of our evening meals. The idea is that it will take; several protein sources, meats/fish (not in our case, S. only eats deep-fried battered haddock) and veggy; carbs, potatoes/rice/pasta/bread, and perhaps cuisines (eliminating implausible combinations such as traditional Jewish/Muslim cuisine and bacon—although chicken poached in milk is good if the herbs are strong enough... haven't done it for years). So five meats etc. times four carbs, in say four traditions = 80 different dishes. We wouldn't have to repeat ourselves for three months (allowing for the occasional meal out—we don't do takeaways)!


My mother was not a good cook. She made no bones about it. Getting a meal on the table every evening (or lunch-time on Sundays) was a chore. Somehow she never managed to get it hot to table. Even in later years when they lived in a bungalow with a dining-kitchen, where the table was but a few feet from the cooker, the meal was at best warm (which accounts for my obsession with getting it on the table hot—even too hot to eat). Partly that was because the Sunday roast was cooked on Saturday because it could be carved thinner when cold; and that mattered when she was growing up.

Our menu in the 'fifties was limited. It was not until the early 'seventies that Mum asked me how to cook rice (other than for rice pudding) and mince (other than simply to boil it, plain). Sunday roast. Monday leftovers. ... Pork pie on Saturday.

But this is not a memoir.

Our culinary horizons have expanded enormously, thanks to Elizabeth David and then legions of TV chefs (even if their principal impact has been to expand our range of tastes for ready meals).

So—I can now cook traditional British/ Indian/ Italian/ Spanish /Lebanese/ US/ Chinese/ French/ Hungarian/  ...  badly.

The restaurants and takeaways cook this stuff all the time. They make sure they have all the ingredients to hand (even if some comes in five-gallon drums of yellow gloop), but more important—they practise. Even if they are not practising in order to improve, the experience makes a difference which nothing else can.

So perhaps I should give up on home cooking and turn to the experts?

(This reflection is prompted in part by teaching on formal and informal group structures which I illustrate by analogy with professional catering and domestic cookery. The formal/informal construct does, I suppose, parallel professional/amateur approaches to a task.)

1 comment:

  1. Your problem with the stir-fry sounds like you have not got the wok hot enough, you need that nut oil almost at the smoking point just before chucking everything in. The whole thing should not take more than 3 minutes in the wok.

    Sorry could not resist I am a bit of amateur cook / foody.


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