Monday 4 March 2013

The Art of Cooking (and the science behind it)

There are recipes I follow without faltering, but they are few and far between: I’m hard-pushed to actually name one, and generally collect ideas, use one recipe, then alter it as I go. On the other hand, I always follow dessert recipes to the letter.

This is the difference between science and art.

The former is the definitive recipe and the ideas behind it that make it work. For example, the quantities of ingredients to get the balance right; knowing that if you grease the baking tin, things are less likely to stick; if the oven’s too hot, the outside will burn and the inside remain uncooked.This is why desserts, pudding and baking usually fall into this category – it’s a scientific process that needs accurate quantities and correct temperatures and times if the magic is to happen: The batter to form a light cake; the egg to set and not curdle; the yeast to do it’s job.

But with a savoury recipe, does it matter if the balance of ingredients is right? Surely it’s all a question of taste? And that, in my opinion, is Art. If you want a crispy topping on something, then yes, turn the oven up at the end, just make sure the middle is cooked through first! If you dislike bitter green peppers, leave them out or substitute for something else. It won’t matter, and if you haven’t cooked the original recipe before either, you’ll never know the difference! This is yet another point on which John Thorne and I agree it would seem. He managed to change a Fusilli with Tomato and Green Olive Sauce recipe containing anchovy, garlic, tomatoes, capers, green olives, basil and oregano, to Gemelli with Red Onion, Yellow Bell Pepper, Black Olives and Tuna: oregano, garlic, capers and basil being the only similar flavourings! His view is, however, slightly different as he tends to see through a recipe to ‘a dish wildly signalling to [him] on the other side, begging to be let out.’ Something he’s been waiting to cook, using the general idea to create his own. I’m nowhere near that stage yet, probably because I have nowhere near as much cooking experience or as good a palate. I still need the general main idea, but I’m beginning to play around more adventurously than I used to.

The science definitely helps…if you’re familiar with cooking methods, appropriate temperatures, why certain ingredients behave in certain ways, then the chances are, you’ll have far greater success with the dish you’re attempting. Thorne suggests that ‘Kitchen science may explain why eggs fried the one way or the other end up the way they do, but it takes no positions on which we should prefer. In fact, knowing both schools of thought gives us a richer conception of what a fried egg is.’

For now, at least, I’ll stick to this rule…

Savoury Dishes = Art         Desserts = Science

And there’s no chance of me messing with Science!


Quotes are taken from The Reviewer and the Recipe, Simple Cooking, Issue 75. John Thorne.

You can find John Thorne online here, but he has, unfortunately for me and many others, decided to ‘wrap things up’ at Issue 100 of his popular subscription ‘Simple Cooking’. Having only just discovered this food-based newsletter I will definitely be subscribing to the remaining issues. At least there are nearly two-years worth of quarterly reading remaining!


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Merlotti x

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