Monday, March 24, 2008

Gung Fu of Cooking

Despite the risk of losing both audiences I stand by my title. Let's
start with some definitions. Gung fu (or Kung fu or gongfu): "one's
expertise in any skill." - Wikipedia

Cooking, so far as I can tell, is a skill. In Anthony Bourdain's excellent book Kitchen Confidential he appropriately draws this correlation by citing "Bruce Lee's" (ahem) theory of "economy of motion" when referring to mise en place. But in a more abstract sense, there are certain methodologies which individual chefs have devised that have proven themselves over time. Take Thomas Keller's handling of garlic, for instance, where he blanches and cools the cloves 3 times or Gordon Ramsay's method of using veggies from braising liquid (cooked until on the verge of mush) passed through a china cap or chinoise as a thickening agent for sauces; or Michael Ruhlman's insistence on using water instead of store bought stock. These methodologies are essentially techniques, all of which I've employed with stellar results, from "Grandmasters" of their respective "systems" as it were. They have influenced my own Cooking Kung fu to the extent that upon reaching a critical moment when a decision needs to be made (e.g.: adding the lemon confit before, during or after reducing the blueberry compote) I pause and think: "What would Keller do?" (WWKD). So with these things in mind here is my first picture:

Say No to Packaged Stock

There is really no longer an excuse for this stuff. Stock is so easy to make that the only skill involved is boiling water. Wondering what to do with those leftovers of rotisserie chicken you got at the mega mart 2 days ago or that chicken in your freezer that you haven't quite gotten around to cooking? Make stock! Don't want to take the time to dump some chicken into a pot of water with some veggies you scoured from the fridge? Use plain water for your soups and braising liquids. Don't believe me? Try it first. You'll soon find that using store bought stocks for soups makes about as much sense as using sweetened iced tea in place of water for coffee!