Cooking food is easy- you just make it hot.
Making food taste nice is harder and creating food so delicious that someone will fall ever so slightly in love with you takes experience, passion and a little bit of skill.
Unless of course you read this…….This will make you irresistable! Much, much more beautiful, witty, sensuous and delightful.
That I am very recently single in no way undermines these claims- I choose to ignore the thronging mass, generally to be found outside the Mackay homestead. I cock a snook at the legions of women, desperate for my culinary and romantic attentions.
And actually I would much rather stay in (last night) by myself, watching 2 episodes of the Hairy Bikers that I have already seen twice……..Eating a pot noodle………Yep………Thats just fine.
Here then are some things that you probably won’t find in Delia but will make your food taste nicer.
- Chorizo and anchovies are the most useful ingredients in the world. Adding a little of either will make almost any savoury dish better. Fry some garlic and a couple of anchovies in some butter or very good olive oil, chuck in a handful of cherry tomatoes and you have my favourite pasta sauce. Think chorizo when you cook sea food- monkfish, scallops, prawns, squid, sea bass all transform when seared in that paprika-rich oil that emanates from a chunk of sizzling chorizo.
- Don’t be afraid of fat. Fat is flavour. Streaky bacon is cheaper than back. Ribeye steak is cheaper than fillet. Which is brilliant because they are both SO much tastier. Margarine is dyed- its natural colour is grey. Still want it on your toast? Creamy curds of yellow butter will make you happy.
- Keep it simple. A perfect shepherds pie, cooked with love and care and good ingredients will win you more admiration than will a poorly executed and pretentious mess of sous vide cooked python fillet, lavender foam and baked potato jelly. My friend Amy had to cook for Raymond Blanc once. She made a beef stew. And do you know what, his eyes glazed over and he adored it- because it was real and true to her. Trying to cook Michelin style food for Raymond Blanc is pointless in the extreme.
- Adapt and be flexible. My friend Christina (yes I have more than one friend) rings me up in a panic if she starts a recipe and then realises that she doesn’t have tarragon. IT DOESN’T MATTER. Chuck in some sage. Or nothing. Read a recipe to get a feel, then close the book and go it alone- measurements and timings in books whilst providing a useful guide can never be accurate. Release yourself from the tyranny of recipes- cooking will become fun. And funny….. for the first few times.
- Learn about slow cooking. Here is the basic premise- take a cheap cut of ANY meat. roll it in flour, salt and pepper. Fry it in oil until it is brown and crispy. Throw in some garlic, onion and root vegetables. Add a mixture of half wine, half stock. Or- do you know what, leave out the wine. Or the stock. It doesnt matter. Put it on the hob or in the oven at a temperature that allows a very gentle simmer. And leave it until the meat is very soft and not chewy. This will take you 20 minutes to prepare, your house will smell astonishing and someone will love you for it.
- Take any fish fillet, hold the tail end and scrape the edge of a sharp knife across the skin, away from your body- you will be amazed at how much grey sludge (which will stop your skin going crispy) you can extract. Heat some oil in a non-stick pan on a medium/high flame. Put the fillet in the pan skin side down and fry it without moving it until there is an small oblong of translucent flesh on top of the fish and the edges are golden and crispy. Flip it over for TEN SECONDS and no more and remove from the pan.
- Read Simon Hopkinson’s Roast chicken and other stories. He is like Nigel Slater but without the smug gerbilness.
- Don’t be afraid of seasoning. Be liberal with salt and pepper, and use vinegar. Vinegar is a massively under used as a seasoning- I use it in curries a lot. There is a great section about this in Thomas Keller’s ‘The French Laundry’ cookbook.
- Don’t bother with dried herbs- other than proper herbes de Provence for your barbecue.
- Clean as you go. Nothing says come to bed with me like seared scallops and chocolate mousse. Nothing says no chance pal like marigolds and manky dish water…..
- Go to ethnic supermarkets. They are all over the place. The greatest thing about London is it’s diversity. Buy something with which you know not what to do, nor what it is called.
- Eat. A lot.