are not always free, but they do often turn out to be a whole lot simpler than the rest.
This past week Heston Blumenthal (he of the Fat Duck and snail porridge fame) has been stalking the Rousseau (aka our) household. It’s the fault of the PVR, of course, which someone has set to record each episode of Blumenthal’s “In Search of Perfection”, and which I am then obliged to watch before deleting it, just to make sure there isn’t anything important I’m missing.
It turns out the show is pretty fascinating, even for the skeptic of “molecular gastronomy”, but that’s as it should be, because Blumenthal wouldn’t call what he does that either. It’s all about “good old fashioned cooking, with a bit of science thrown in for good measure” (I paraphrase liberally). So far two of his twists on the classics have been intriguing enough to be reproduced – with allowances for tweaking – in our own kitchen (and no, I didn’t just write a thesis claiming that people who watch food tv don’t/can’t cook).
First there was the 24 hr steak, which gave the philosophe a chance to play with his new blowtorch. That’s what you sear the meat with, then leave it in the oven for about a day, at 50C, after which you finish it off on the pan again. Cooled and sliced, it became part of a righteous steak salad (plus beetroot) with slivers of meat so tasty and relaxed in texture that the mouth was ever thankful, and we were all reminded that the idea of vegetarianism is just silly.
Then there was a plump free-range chicken which sat in brine for a couple of hours before being rinsed and blanched several times, followed by 12 or so hours of “drying” time in the fridge (the brining keeps it juicy, the drying works for crisping the skin). You then cook the bird for about four hours on a heat so low (60-80) it makes the non-adventurous scared of evil bacteria, a fear which would only have merit only if you eliminate the final step, which is a blast of heat to crisp the skin. We did that part on a fire, and after a good 15 minutes or so it had that mildly charred but yes-factor skin. The meat was unbelievably juicy, and although maybe it was just a damn happy chicken before it died, I am now convinced that brining is a good thing to do, if you have the time.
Of course we don’t all have time to stand around dunking chickens in and out of hot and cold water every time we want a meal, nor can we always remember to start cooking a steak the day before we want to eat it. So these things are fun as events (and I still intend to try Heston’s “perfect” pizza), but your desert island food has to be the kind that you can organise in less than five minutes, and I was reminded of mine yesterday:
First, have a hectic morning so you come home hungry and tired.
Then cut 1 slice of delicious (home-baked) bread.
Slather generously with peanut butter (the natural kind, ie. made from peanuts).
Top with 3 slices of cheese (something bland like Edam), or enough to cover.
Never mind the plate, just sit down and eat.
Peanut butter, bread and cheese does what Monsieur Boulanger proclaimed he could above the door of what some consider to be the first restaurant (ca.1765, Paris): Venite ad me; vos qui stomacho laboratis et ego restaurabo vos
Come to me, you whose stomachs labour, and I will restore you.