Friday, 10 April 2009
How to be a good cook
I've been thinking over the past couple of days about how easy it is to eat well in France. Not so much in restaurants any more - the standard overall is pretty poor these days - but in terms of the produce you have on your doorstep. The local greengrocer down the road from where we've been staying has seven or eight different kind of lettuces for example, most locally grown. In England you'd be lucky to find two or three.
Everything is really fresh too. You can smell the earth on the lettuces. Radishes have real crunch. Even the early strawberries smell of sweet, ripe fruit.
It makes you want to prepare food simply so you can enjoy those flavours - and that after all is what good cooking should be about. You can make a simple lunch out of a baguette, some radishes and a chunk of paté. Ripe tomatoes need no further elaboration than a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper and a trickle of vinegar. (If you slice them season them and anoint them with oil then leave them for 10 minutes they make their own delicious juice. The vinegar is just the final seasoning) You can add herbs like basil or parsley or scatter in some finely sliced white or green onions but you don't have to.
The art of good home cooking in my view lies not in being highly skilled but knowing what ingredients work together. Although you can become a perfectly competent cook by mastering a few basic recipes to be a great one you have to be a good eater, to really enjoy your food.
I get my best ideas these days not from complicated recipes but seeing what ingredients chefs put together and trying to reproduce what they do in a less expensive and time-consuming way. If you heighten your awareness of flavour and flavour combinations you're on the road to better eating!
What most inspires you to cook? Or do you regard it as a chore?