Notwithstanding some great dishes which are very simple, most of what’s considered ‘tasty’ in the world’s cuisines involves blending different ingredients, tastes and textures in ‘relevant complexity’.
Too many flavours, too much of one, one that’s out of place or the wrong blend of ingredients creates irrelevant complexity – which is simply nasty. In fact I’d argue that even the simplest ‘great’ foods rely on great ingredients; which are often very complicated to grow, make or rear, requiring optimum care and conditions.
As the scientific chef Heston Blumenthal points out, cooking is really applied chemistry. The complexity comes in applying it to that most unpredictable of non-linear systems – human taste.
And tastes develop and mature with experience. Taste doesn’t stand still, it is cultivated and grows. Blame Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ – if the challenge doesn’t move on we become bored.
There can be little doubt that the joy in making and eating food lies in creating, enjoying and cultivating a taste for ‘relevant complexity’. It’s the spice of food life. Mmmm.
And what’s great about food is if you focus attention on it, there’s potential discovery and pleasure in every mouthful a good three times a day.
Now this is not a cookbook – it’s more of a tasting menu for life. But the big lesson I’ve learned is there is joy to be had at all levels of culinary skill. And like everything in this book the more you learn, the more you practice – the better it gets.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall put me on the right road with River Cottage Veg Every Day! Simple enough to make, tasty, some new ingredients but not too many – and a handy ‘store cupboard essentials’ list to stock your cupboards with stuff, which ‘keeps’ and keeps you eating well, when you’ve not been shopping all week. And all of that with vegetables, pasta and pulses alone. Amazing.
Hugh taught me that the difference between 175°c and 190°c is all the difference in the world. 175° cooks, 190° carbonises. A dab of carbon makes limp veg taste great – and incidentally makes meat fat sizzle – whereas 175° just roasts.
A few minutes at 190° changes a sloppy, stewing, Bolognaise into a rich densely flavoured ragu. But more than ten minutes and it starts to burn – and 190° is a little too hot for cheese or béchamel.
Cookers should have a dial which breaks 150° to 220° into smaller increments with precision settings especially between 175° and 195° – as it all really happens between those temperatures; you can bake, roast, caramelise, crisp or burn.
There are months of ‘relevant complexity’ to explore with just veg and a fan oven. And that’s before tackling the hob: oils, onions and spices, whole and ground – let alone the myriad mysteries of meat. The possibilities are endless once you get the taste.
Whatever you like to eat, I’m very glad I found these four cookbooks – if I’d had these as a student or a twenty and thirty-something I’d have eaten like a king and been a lot better host:
River Cottage Veg Every Day! (River Cottage Every Day)Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall enthuses and teaches without preaching – learn with veg, apply to everything that goes near a hob or oven.
Anjum’s New IndianAnjum Anand’s introduction to contemporary Indian – not as heavy but just as tasty.
JerusalemYotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi – the Mediterranean and Levant brought to life.
The Silver Spoon (Cookery) Phaidon Press – the definitive guide to Italian cuisine.
And finally, juggling Yorkshire Puddings alongside a Sunday roast is ‘relevant complexity’ at work. But there is only one recipe book you really need, Delia’s original and best Complete Illustrated Cookery Course ( Classic Edition )
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