We all have recipes that aren’t actually “recipes.” We know them so well, we’ve made them so many times that we don’t actually look at a piece of paper or book. No ingredient list, no measurements necessary – it just comes together. Our mothers and grandmothers cooked like that most of the time. It is cooking with a Tao perspective, what we'll call "The Way of Cooking." setsat32007
"The Way of Cooking” looks at the structure of a recipe and its basic fundamentals. Once this is mastered, the cook can “go with the flow” to adjust and create on her own. Even if you’re not a cook who feels confident working without a “net,” the Way will help your confidence blossom.
The Way of Cooking considers these elements: 1. Essence: what defines the dish, what combination of ingredients or method will give the dish its character. 2. Components: how is the dish deconstructed to its basic ingredients. 3. Proportion: how much of each ingredient is needed.
I am often asked to make or to provide recipes for fried rice, so let’s use that as a model.
Essence The Essence of Fried Rice is, of course, rice, oil, aromatics and seasonings quickly cooked in a hot wok; fillings are optional, but often included. In the Philippines, though, garlic fried rice is a popular breakfast side dish served with eggs, tomatoes, and spicy meats such as longanisa or tocino -- it is just rice, garlic and salt.
The secret to fried rice, no matter the ingredients used, is this: you have to season and cook the fillings (aromatics, meats, vegetables) before you add the rice.
Components Completely different styles of fried rice all have the same basic Components
that are quickly cooked in a hot pan. Change the rice, the seasonings, the filllings, even the oil, and your finished rice is a wholly different product. Most people have had fried rice as a side dish with a Chinese meal, but there are also Indonesian nasi goreng, Korean kimchi bokkum bap, Japanese omu-rice, pineapple rice, and breakfast fried rice (SPAM, ham or sausage with vegetables).
Proportion The Way allows for doubling, tripling --- as much as needed. The amounts given are only to give you a sense of the Proportion of the ingredients, but the whole point is to put more or less according to your own taste and what you have on hand. I have only ever used a wok to make fried rice, and I think the wok’s sloping sides help the dish come together. It is a worthy investment (not just for fried rice, of course).
(Side note: don't buy a non-stick wok --- it is an oxymoron of the highest order. More on this later.)
Sight measurements One of the keys to The Way of Cooking is to develop a feel for what ingredient amounts LOOK like. Unlike baking, which involves more chemistry, cooking is both very forgiving and encouraging of creativity, so allow yourself some slack and learn some sight measurements.
For instance, take a bowl you know you use often when cooking and put in 3 cups of cooked rice – does it come ¾ of the way up the bowl, or does it look just slightly mounded over the top? Now that you know what 3 cups of rice looks like, you won’t have to measure precisely next time.
Sight measures are really important for recurring smaller measurements – 1 teaspoon, 1Tablespoon, etc. Again, pour one measured teaspoon or Tablespoon of salt into the palm of your hand. Get used to what that looks like and soon you won’t have to fumble for a measuring spoon for every recipe.
Tasting A second key to The Way of cooking is to taste as you go. Since measurements aren’t precise, it’s really important to make sure the taste you’re expecting develops as you cook.