on following a recipe
But first a little recap from the session:
While writers should assume that recipes will be read by novices, they are not always written with the home cook in mind. A professional chef will think nothing of calling for litres of fresh stock forgetting most homes aren’t equipped with a cool room or have minions doing prep each day. While tomes like Stephanie Alexander’s have a comprehensive basics section, different skill levels tend be implied by some of the big name chefs.
There was some chat about pet peeves; the first was missing ingredients, followed by a lack of warning about steps that need to be prepared in advance, such as the aforementioned stock.
Interestingly the recipe I selected stumbled on those 2 points.
Picture this – bedtime the night before my regular market trip. A book of recipe cuttings, class notes from cooking classes and laptop with ‘clippings’ from websites. I wanted something very simple but not what I would usually make, no more than a moderate list of ingredients and it to be a main dish with the necessity of a minimum of sides. Amongst my word files I found it – Poached Blue Eye with Saffron, Fennel & Tomato. A quick look over the flavourings – saffron, fennel seeds and garlic, all on hand so there were just a few fresh ingredients to grab on the day.
On rereading the recipe the next day, the first problem I noticed was the recipe I had (from an unknown source) omitted the fresh fennel. Just how many bulbs did I need, that the method told me to slice? A quick internet search found me a near identical version, written slightly different to the one I had grabbed. Who copied whom I wonder? The panelists had also listed non-attributed recipes to the pet peeves, which I can totally understand (not looking at any gyoza recipe snatchers in the blogosphere!). I went with the Sydney Fish Market version (though there were other very similar ones online), jotted down a shopping list and headed off.
My selection criteria took into account that the key ingredients would be available at this time of year – it was simply onion, tomato, fennel and fish. It would be too frustrating to search for something obscure or way out of season. Also I was relatively confident that Blue Eye/Trevela would be available, after all what was the point of slavishly following a recipe if I substituted the star for the understudy on the opening night? I usually buy fish based on freshness and price. I bristled at searching for just one, quite pricey species. When using fillets – I usually point at the desired size but to honour the recipe I got the fishmonger to find pieces as close as possible to the prescribed 180 g each. The whole experience just kept reinforcing how much I prefer to devise a menu on what looks best on the day.
Later in the afternoon, an hour or two before starting to cook I thought it best to thoroughly scour the recipe again for cooking times and other such things. I noticed then that I had to source 3 cups of fish stock (the panellist’s second pet peeve), which fortunately I did have in the freezer. An unknown quantity of simple fish stock, made a couple of months earlier from flathead bones. I was pretty sure it would come very close to the desired amount, so I took it out to thaw. The other bonus was the small amount of white wine, meaning there was an excuse to open a bottle of sauv blanc on a ‘school night’. At this point I began thinking what sides it would need to make the meal complete. The recipe(s) suggested mash or crusty bread, both were possible.
So onto the cooking, could I actually do it? Two extremely minor transgressions. I sliced the fennel rather than dicing – I just couldn’t help myself. However as much as I desperately wanted to put in more than 2 cloves of garlic I managed to resist. The recipe called for ‘salt flakes’ but I used ground sea salt instead. The oven was up to speed, the potatoes were ready to mash - all set, the dish went in the oven for it’s 10 minutes of cooking. All there was to do was pour a glass of wine and set the table.
The verdict. Initially I thought it a little ordinary. But the poaching liquid – stock, wine, fennel, garlic and saffron, was perfectly balanced. The Significant Eater waxed lyrical saying it was delicious and that he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Well, not a thing but maybe some leeks – Yes I agreed just what I had thought, next time leeks instead of onions, maybe a touch more garlic. Was 1/2 a teaspoon enough saffron…and we were off, back to our old tricks!