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Jul 31, 2009 11:39 AM

Ignoring your food

Do you find that ignoring (or rather, intentionally neglecting) certain steps while cooking can really add unexpected benefits to overall flavor of a dish?

This thought occurred to me, and made me wonder if it has struck others as well...I think I can even remember the exact moment when the complete thought came to me: I was browning chicken in olive oil for some arroz con pollo, and I had a phone call that took my attention completely from the matter at hand. Came back to find the meat had a seriously wonderful brown crust that "made the dish."

I like how Anne Burrell puts it, "Take the dish right to the edge of disaster and then yank it back." As an example: when observing an Italian nonna making a fegato with peppers in an Abruzzo kitchen, I was struck with how slowly she moved while dealing with very high temperatures, and how deliberate her gestures were- and then, how wonderful the result tasted.

I know that this is understood in many good restaurant kitchens and is in no way "news," (there is even a study that shows that experienced cooks have an innate timing ability, complete with internal alarms, when cooking time-sensitive things), and that for the home cook, having an understanding of temperature curves is important. But sometimes forgetting all that is good, too: I made sausages and peppers yesterday. I had chopped way too many onions to fit into my large pan, not including the peppers and sausages and can of crushed tomatoes. Knowing that sometimes these things work out, I put everything in and forgot about it for a while. Of course, everything cooked down perfectly and the pieces on the bottom were caramelized but not withered- something that would have been the case had I fussed over the onions.

What are your experiences with this "cooking to the brink of disaster?" Are there other dishes that benefit from this treatment that I should know about? Cheers.

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  1. I can't think of a real-life example from my own cooking, but maybe that's how cheese and yogurt and vinegar and all those wonderful things got started too.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cinnamon

      and perhaps more importantly, beer ;-)

    2. I call this dish the "forgotten green beans": One time I was heating up my all clad dry, while french cutting the green beans. Something took me away for a while, and when i came back, i realized the pan was dangerously hot. I quickly turned off the flame, and put some olive oil in. It was almost smoking. I then just put all the beans and some crushed garlic in. Hearing the explosive sizzle I quickly put the lid on and walked away. 10 mins later I opened the lid, and found the beans to have pan-seared quality as well as the plump juiciness that came from the closed lid, and have been perfectly cooked through even though the flame was off and stayed off when the beans went in.

      4 Replies
      1. re: HLing

        I will try this for supper tonight w fresh lemon juice and more olive oil to go w/ Morrocan lamb sausague and cuscus.

        1. re: Passadumkeg

          i hope you have a very strong pan, and weak smoke detector for this one time. :)

          actually, I just made more beans tonight, french cut and all, didn't go quite so high with the heat but all within control. The one thing that worked well was to have lightly salted and semi-heavily massaged the frenched beans prior to throwing them into the pan. This was a method i picked up from a different incident with daikon radishes, but it works.

          1. re: HLing

            We just got done eating. I used a cast iron Dutch oven and fried some finely diced potatoes to dark brown first then added the beans, let it burn for a bit and when done added fresh oregano and freshhly squeezed lemon juice and tossed. Served over freshly picked red tip lettuce and the olive/lemon sauce wilted the lettuce. A grinding of fresh pepper and yum, summer is finally here!

            1. re: Passadumkeg

              Wow- that sounds amazing. Love the combination of beans and potatoes. Oregano and lemon...mmm. Ignored. Ignored.

      2. I made some homemade yogurt last week, using up the whole milk and cream I had leftover. The instructions said to incubate for 4-6 hrs, but I let it go for 8,5 hrs. What a great, thick, substantial product! I ate the "skin" and used the rest for vanilla frozen yogurt. The next time I made homemade froyo, I'm going to incubate for hours longer again!

        1. I generally disregard instructions to cook onions until softened but not colored (unless cooking something that has to remain very pale). I cook them on high heat until at the very least tinged with brown, sometimes a good bit darker than that. I think they lend a better base flavor that way. First started doing that when I got into Indian cooking - those onions cooked until nice and brown in lots of oil add a savory note to food in general.

          1 Reply
          1. re: buttertart

            I agree heartily- the only time I don't ignore with onions is when making an onion tart. Any brown there and the ephemeral, onion-y sweetness disappears.

          2. I only wish I had forgotten food miracles like some of you guys seem to! When I have a lapse of thought in the kitchen, bad things tend to result...very bad things...

            Mostly notably, burned bread and overflowing tubs of dough...

            Writing away about my latest 3 week adventure through China at