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My Phooey list

My Phooey List (ie. Baloney)

Food Myths, Trends, Snobbisms and Here-say I don’t believe in

After almost 20yrs of cooking professionally, and 40 plus years of eating mindfully with appetite, I can’t help but have my opinions when it comes to food.  On what is important, yummy or not, when it is ok to break the rules.. When some culinary dictum or trend makes no sense to me, I feel like I’ve earned the right to lift my finger high in the air, or more politely say Phooey.  (Where did that word come from I don't know, I don't even like it - Baloney is better, or grosse merde, you get my point.)

  • Truffles – Honestly over-rated!  Yes, an intriguing, rare ingredient that can give a ‘je ne sais quoi’ touch to a dish - if you can afford them as well as have the connections and luck to fall on a good batch of the real thing.. But really, there are so many more interesting mushrooms in our backyard.  Same thing with Morels, another snobby mushroom that while delicious and elusive, seem to be revered less for their subtle flavour and typical concentration of dirt, more because the French value them and because they are expensive.
  • Blanching rules (For vegetables – salt water & ice water bath) – Ideal in a restaurant kitchen setting, but so unnecessary.  The salt does little but help taste-wise; cold tap water works fine for the cool down, if indeed you need to cool your veg down (not usually at home when they would go straight into the sauté pan or plate).
  • Aldente – Both pasta and veg are best not over-cooked, but can we please forget about aldente as the ultimate cuisson?  Pasta is best barely on this side of done, but most veg are better on the other side, closer to melting if we can forget about bright colour for a second.  Same with rice and grains, even meat and fish.  Sometimes sushi or carpaccio is perfect given the weather or cut of meat/fish at hand, but more often, both are more delectable and easily digested cooked at least to rare (medium-rare or even yes, medium). With wild meats, better to cook the hell out of them but oh so slowly with lots of TLC.  Many wild veg need more than a kiss of heat too, lots of boiling water.
  • Raw foods – Sorry but this is just stupid as a diet, to make it a rule not to ingest anything heated beyond 38C or whatever their magic number is.  I do know that it's just outside the safety zone..  To try to develop flavour, they warm things up so that it’s teaming with bacteria, not hot enough to kill the precious enzymes (?) or the nasty bacteria either. No wonder so many first timers report sore stomachs. Yes, eat lots of fruit and veg and nuts (the only good thing about this diet), but for the most part, our body more efficiently derives energy and nutrients from cooked food.  Cooking is one of our greatest evolutionary steps – why backtrack?
  • Nutrition value boxes – the biggest joke of our times.  Who needs them?  They are misleading and besides the point.  Unless you live off processed foods and things in boxes.  We could avoid the headaches (and excessive cost for producers) by simply eating real food, or as Michael Pollan said, anything our grandmothers would recognize.  We don’t see the need for labels on our carrots do we?  As for condiments and treats, if they make up a minor part of our diet, who cares.  All we should know beyond the ingredient list is where a foodstuff comes from for traceability, to know where to find further detailed info if necessary.  We should be more concerned with all the sketchy imported stuff with false/incomplete labelling.
  •  Frozen vs Fresh – With sous-vide (vacuum pack), frozen is the new fresh.  No longer is the lack of a freezer in your kitchen a sign of haute cuisine – au contraire. Better to have local, frozen produce year-round than readily available 3 week ‘fresh’ from abroad grown in uncertain conditions..  I put up my local peas, favas and corn for the year along with all the local wild greens, berries and veg.  We now have local greenhouses for bonus crunch in winter, no pain.
  •  Gluten bad – Aside from the unfortunate suffering from Celiac disease, I have a hard time believing that Gluten is that bad for everyone all of a sudden.  Find some other toxic chemical in our environment to blame.  I refuse to change up good local wheat flour for a mix of industrial powders when I want to make good bread or pasta.
  • Roux-based sauces (like Bechamel or Velouté)– So uncool for too many years, but they are tasty and definitely hit the spot in winter, especially when suffering from gluten backlash. It’s true that cornstarch slurry is handy and more versatile.  A thin natural jus has its place too.  But reducing a stock to the point of lip-sticking (when it seems to lose aromas) to build it up with a ton of butter never made much sense to me as an alternative. 
  • Pectin in jam – Foodies find it hip to look down on pectin for some reason.. Whatever the natural pectin in the fruit, using pectin in jam& jellies allows you to cook the mixture less and maintain more fruit flavour for less sugar/reduction for equivalent gel.  I don't recommend using the recipes on a Certo box (more sugar and pectin than fruit), but if you enjoy fresh fruit taste and jelly texture, pectin persay is not to be sniffed at.  And what if the added pectin is DIY pectin from early season apples?
  • Pork belly – the darling of chefs, but I just think it’s too fatty.  I love it to cook with, to make petit salé or bacon, a garnish maybe.  But forget about it as a piece of protein on a plate, I’m not in.
  •  Over-manipulation – like the turned vegetables of yesteryear when half the vegetable went into the stockpot for the sake of cute football shapes, most of the molecular gastronmomy tricks and gimmicks of today similarly amount to a waste of time and diminished freshness/flavour.  Presentation is not everything!
  •  Skimming – I just don’t waste my time skimming.  If there is a big bulge of white froth atop my broth or sauce, I remove it, but I’m not standing next to the pot skimming off every little ‘impurity’.  It’s just protein.  Or flavourful fat.  If I want a clear stock, I clarify; for sauces, it doesn’t make much of a difference if you’re controlling heat, then straining, degreasing and thickening/reducing at the end.  Again, it’s about aesthetics, not taste.
  • Misuse of Labels: Bio, Green, Local, Natural etc..  I hate that these words no longer mean anything due to dishonest/ overuse by chefs and food producers on their menus or in marketing.

-your cuisine is NOT Local/Regional if your garlic comes from China and your 'ative' Jerusalem artichokes come from California, if you order from big suppliers.

-your menu is NOT Seasonal if you have morels and asparagus on it in March and you live in Quebec unless you’re following someone else’s seasons

-your maple syrup is not Artisanal if it comes out of miles of tubing

-you should NEVER be allowed to use any of these words if you are Walmart or McDonalads!

  •  Nitrites – I’ve come to the conclusion that this scare is equally Phooey along the lines of MSG (caution yes, but not so bad), and that nitrites are simply key in charcuterie. History speaks.  If the preservation comes from celery, it’s still nitrite btw.  Sel nitrité in minute concentrations helps make your charcuterie safe and lends an agreeable taste; it really doesn’t taste the same without.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat aged saucisson without it now.  Which is why I don’t make that kind of saucisson, too touchy.  But I did play around with other charcuterie without it for years, because that was what was considered noble.  I only purchased charcuterie without nitrite too, it was important to me at the time.  All to eventually say 'screw that' because it wasn't all that good.  I now use it for liver and raw cured things and avoid it when I can.  I’m talking <<1% here, much, much less than what you see in boucheries/supermarkets.  I have no idea how they keep their stuff pink for so long, those doses might be scary.  Yet everyone eats it!  Hard to convince people to eat brown/green paté, I guess.  I don't think we need to be especially afraid of nitrites, like we don't need to be afraid of MSG (as in glutamates) in natural form, hello umami!  But we shouldn't be sprinkling the pure stuff all over either, or eating in Chinatown everynight, and we can always choose our charcuterie carefully made, ie. somewhere in between.
  •  Salt Bad – Just avoid processed foods and junk food, cook at home and you don’t need to be afraid of salt.  Food and life would be excruciatingly boring without salt.
  • Fat Bad – Fat is good for us.  Our body needs it and knows how to deal with it if it is a fat it knows (ie olive oil, animal fat, not trans fat).  Again, avoiding processed foods and you hardly have to worry, as long as you eat enough fruit and veg and exercise modestly of course.  Julia Child and her dandruff boy come to mind – a funny anecdote I caught on Rewind CBC: he was a vegan, nutritionist or something who criticized her decadent cooking; meanwhile she couldn’t help but notice that he had major dandruff due to a lack of oils/animal fat in his diet..  I also think of the picture of Nigella Lawson vs. Miss Health Guru circulating on the web this year (cheap stuff I know, but still); who would you rather look like/be? http://chainmailbomb.com/?p=51   
  • Big ass portions – Too many giant portions all over.. Who needs that?  And there is no way you can serve quality in big quantities without exorbitant costs to matchRestaurants who serve reasonable portions are quick to be criticized for being stingy or too fancy.  Good food should be as accessible as possible.  I just wish quality in smaller portions were the new normal..  Although we should probably all eat less, that’s not what I’m saying here - just better smaller dishes, to be able to choose and not waste without having to go to a tapas joint..
  • Big ass steaks – Same story.  It is official that we should all be eating less meat, only better pastured, natural meat, and in ways that allow restaurants and purveyors to use the whole beast while encouraging local small growers who can only sell whole beasts.  So, no big ass steaks.  And yes, more variety - more grain, veg based sides. 
  • Vitamins and Supplements – Except for in special cases, I don’t believe in taking vitamins – the fewer pills that pass my mouth the better.  It’s so much easier (and more pleasant) to eat well, not to mention that our bodies assimilate vitamins and minerals better in the natural forms of fruits, vegetables and sunlight anyway.
  • Eating late at night makes you fat – The way I feast late night makes this bogus to me.
  •  Gas vs Electric  I need Gas at the restaurant, but at home, electric is fine (and unlike many of my collegues, I cook a lot at home).  There is less pressure at home, and you figure out how to maximize and work with what you have.  Electric is much less messy.  If you want gas in your home, you need an expensive ventilation system and you will have to work harder at keeping your stove looking clean.  I’ve seen too many rich catering clients complain about this - torn between having a top of the line commercial kitchen and one that is spic&span out of a design book.  They don’t go together if you actually use the kitchen.
  •  Industrial Cleaning Products – Accepted in a restaurant environment but hardly necessary.  Soap & water (with some elbow grease) go a long way.  Baking soda, Vinegar..  Pull out the degreaser or Easy Off once a month instead of every night.  It’s all about day to day maintenance and actual scrubbing, people have forgotten how to scrub. It would also help if sparkling, white or stainless weren't the epitome of 'clean' - difficult when green..
  • Searing meat keeps the juices in and etc.   20 yrs after Harold McGee debunked this (among many traditional cooking myths), I still keep hearing chefs say this.  Obviously food science is slow to trickle down to mainstream Quebec. Bottom line, we sear the meat for crust and taste, period.  Sous-vide and low temperature cooking work marvels for meat texture, but we can’t seem to do without that savoury Maillard reaction from the searing effect.  Which is why a simple pan roast remains the best way to cook meat at home.. 
  • Other cooking myths scientifically debunked  - TBC
Posted on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 02:06AM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton in , , | CommentsPost a Comment

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