There are lots of ways of looking at cooking: it is impossible to think of a single method of categorizing food that both truly exhaustive and useful. On this page we document a few notable cooking categories that deserve mention.
The key to good sea food is freshness. Go to your local fish monger. If it smells the least bit like ammonia, find a different place to buy fish. Ammonia is the odor fish flesh releases as it breaks down. That means old fish. Be aware that many fish counters, especially those inland will sell 'previously frozen' fish as fresh. Unless you know you are going to take the fish home and cook it right away, paying a third party to thaw your fish is a little silly. If 'previously frozen' fish is good enough, then perhaps one ought to buy frozen fish; it will keep better.
The variety at wholesale clubs may not be very good, but some wholesale clubs have extremely high turnover. And at such places, fresh fish can be very fresh. Near my own home, any grocery store fish stand will have salmon that goes bad in the refrigerator in less than three days. The fish from the wholesale store takes at least a week. That means that it is four or five days fresher at the wholesale club.
One great advantage to fish is that many kinds of popular fish can be prepared simply. For example, salmon may be broiled to perfection. Seved with a side of riced new potatoes and some green beans or a salad, this is a super 15 minute meal. Poaching can also be both simple and compelling. One can, in a matter of 10 minutes make a broth for poaching fish; and in 20 more minutes one can have a finished meal.
Seafood's biggest drawback is that fresheness is of paramount importance, and even near the sea it is often difficult to get good fish. Those who have found a reliable source of fresh fish are most fortunate, and will wish to buy and use a few of the great cookbooks that describe the way to get the most out of fish. James Peterson's Fish and Shellfish is the gold standard for seafood preparation. If you find it in here it is good. Nobu is written by America's most famous Japanese chef, a highly accomplished chef whose avant garde restaurant shares the name of the cookbook.
Old-fashioned to some, quaint to others is the notion of making one's own pickles, jams, and preserves. Why go to the bother? Not everybody should. But some people find that commercial pickles or jams fail to capture some quality of food that they yearn to capture. In such cases, making one's own pickles or jams or chutneys or preserves will make a great deal of sense.
Preserving food is an old art. Man has been preserving food for many millennia. The preservation of fruits and vegetables using some combination of : vinegar, sugar, salt, cloves, pepper, coriander, allspice, garlic, and oil is quite old. Its success derives from creating 'food ' that is unsuitable habitat for any harmful microbes. This method we call pickling. Besides our common pickled cucumbers and pickled cauliflower-carrot foods, olives and a wide range of chutneys are preserved with the same set of ingredients.
It is not uncommon, when one is faced with a sizable chunk of meat to yearn for vegetables. And it is not uncommon to find that pickled vegetables seem especially right with piles of red meat. Their charm lies in the way they are exactly what the red meat is not. And perhaps there is something in the pickle that helps our bodies digest the heavy meat dish. In any case, we dare speculate that the pickle has fallen on hard times and deserves to make a come-back.
Chutneys are pickled foods also. They generally contain much less fluid and somewhat less salt. Frequently they contain quite a lot of sugar and often a moderate amount of oil. Also, they are much more heavily flavored with spices. The oil, traditionally, would seal out the air, keeping the contents beneath perfectly fresh. But the oils also soak up lots of the yummy flavors in the preservative spices, so the oil serves double-duty just like the sugar, salt, and spices. Chutneys can be used with meats or vegetables, but generally one is eating much less meat when one eats chutney.
Jam, ideally, is the essence of the fruit distilled and concentrated into a jar. Unfortunately our expectation for jam is that it be thick and sweet. And both of these expectations drive jam makers to make jams with rather more sugar than jams need. It is for this reason that one might make one's own jam. Pectin is the material to thicken jam. Pectin is a particular kind of food starch that creates a jell. But it needs both sugar and acid to work well. My guess is that sugar is cheaper than pectin and so more sugar is used and less pectin than might be ideal for the perfect jam. But this is a subject of speculation. If it is true, then a person who covets intense fruit flavor in jam but who wishes for less severe sweetness might be able to craft jams and jellies that manage to do just this. This is the reason for making one's own jam.
Nobody wants to spend more time and effort cooking than is required to get a tasty and nutritious meal. Many of us lead very busy lives and while we loathe fast food we still covet food fast. In a perfect world, we could cook great food in ten minutes. Practically speaking, a well organized person might be able to create a number of really good meals in 20 minutes. Thirty minutes is a more reasonable target for a really good meal. Rachel Ray may be the queen of the thirty minute meal; her Food TV program is popular and so are her books.
One of the most enduring practices in making meals fast, is that of cooking large pots of food and freezing the rest.
Eat well and prosper.
Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.