I prepared to write this column, I thought it was going
to be one of the easiest. What I soon realised was that
this is probably the most difficult to write, not to
mention maybe the most important. The reason for this,
as I discovered, was because it was about principles,
it is about the philosophy of cooking, it is about understanding
the chemistry of food. How does one for example, explain
the whys and wherefores behind a religion in one easy
lesson? Describe all its doctrines, etc that are based
on hundreds or thousands of years of work.
please bear with me. Read the column and I am sure you
will not only find it most interesting but learn a lot
also, and hopefully increase your cooking skills greatly.
So, cooking without recipes! We do it all the time,
probably without even thinking about it. When, for example,
did you last use a recipe to cook your Sunday roast,
a cottage pie or any other dish you prepare on a regular
basis for the family?
cuisine, great dishes are about the foods we use, the
quality of them and the combinations in which we use
them. Why have all the classic dishes stood the test
of time, like Seafood Mornay, Lobster Thermidor,
Irish Stew, Beef Bourguignon, Chicken
Chasseur, Sacher Torte and so on? Why do
these work and remain classics? It is because great
ingredients have been combined in a great fusion, a
marriage of flavours.
recipes are required and indeed essential so dont
get me wrong . . . use recipes when required, when needed.
But there are times when a full recipe is not required,
a list of ingredients will often be sufficient for the
professional chef or the enthusiastic amateur cook.
times a week I receive emails asking me for recipe for
in a Cream Sauce with Dill and Salmon
Filo Pastry stuffed with Mushrooms, Spring Onions,
Garlic and Minced Pork
Soup with Orange
with Rocket Lettuce, Parmesan, Olives, Bacon and dressed
with a roasted Orange Vinaigrette
fact sometimes, the request is so specific with regard
to the list of ingredients, it makes me wonder where
the list came from. Perhaps a dish they had at a restaurant,
at a friends place, read from the side of a packet .
. . where? How does one come up with a recipe for a
dish that is very generic or you are just given a description
of the dish with a list of ingredients? Such as the
above filo pastry dish whihc I received a request for
of the time I cannot supply a recipe for such dishes
because, unless by sheer coincidence I have a recipe
for such a dish, the only way I can send a recipe is
if I go and get the ingredients, try it for myself,
design the dish and recipe, weighing everything as I
go, etc. The only way around this is to supply people
with guidelines and that is cooking without recipes!
the person who does little cooking I realise this can
be a daunting prospect. But for those with a taste
for adventure, for those that can embrace a new
idea, it leads to a lot more freedom in the kitchen.
A step closer to cooking without recipes and cooking
the way many professional chefs do, by relying on their
senses, all their senses - taste, touch, smell, sight,
sound and maybe one of most important senses, common
is a concept that is simple but difficult to implement,
to teach people how to cook in this way and get them
to let go of the structure of recipes. I always liken
it to that classical movie moment in Star Wars when
Luke Skywalker finally lets go and starts to rely on
me expand by giving some examples:
thick should a sauce be? As thick as you need it to
be, as thick as you like it to be . . . if it is too
thin then thicken it up, if it is too thick then thin
it down. What do you thin it down with? Whatever liquid
you used to make it in the first place - milk, stock,
etc. Water will not only dilute the consistency but
the flavour also.
much dill should go into a dill sauce? How much cheese
into a cheese sauce? As much as is needed. Start off
with a little, a light sprinkling, allow the flavours
to mingle for a while, then taste and add more if
does your bread burn each time, even though you follow
the instructions to the letter and set the oven at
the stated temperature? Not all ovens are created
equal - for example my commercial, convection ovens
in my training kitchen are so heat efficient I find
I have to reduce recommended cooking temperatures
by 10° to 15°C. Your own ovens may need to
be adjusted up or down as required.
then there is maybe the biggest lesson of all . .
. use what you have previously learnt, be it a technique,
a method, etc and learn to apply it elsewhere. For
example, if you have ever made a salad like cucumber
with sour cream and dill and then make a chilled cucumber
soup and there is something missing . . . guess what?
Dill goes extremely well with cucumber full stop,
it does not matter if it is a soup, a salad, etc .
. . . and for that matter so does sour cream. It is
taking what you have done previously, what you have
learnt and applying it elsewhere.
example would be Aioli, which is basically a strong
garlic mayonnaise. Made it before? Love it? Love baked
or roasted garlic as a spread on French bread also?
Why not roast the garlic for the Aioli instead of
putting it in raw?
us break down the previous examples I gave and excuse
the bluntness at times but I am sure you will get the
IN A CREAM SAUCE WITH DILL AND SALMON
have a tin of salmon, you have the dill, you can read
the instructions on how to cook the pasta . . . so what
is left? How to make a cream sauce and how to put the
dish together? Many will smack their foreheads and say
"Oh yes, how obvious. If you do, you
are one step closer to cooking with your senses:
pasta is hot
sauce is hot
salmon needs to be heated . . . strain and add to
the finished cream sauce. The salmon is already cooked
it just requires thorough re-heating. Why not mix
it with the hot pasta? Well it may not reheat thoroughly
and is also more likely to break up too much.
the chopped dill at the very end, just prior to serving,
so that it stays a nice sharp green colour, keeps
the flavour fresher and less has to be added (remember
just a light sprinkling at first and then a little
more if you think it needs it) or place some on the
table to allow people to add more if they wish.
FILO PASTRY STUFFED WITH MUSHROOMS, SPRING ONIONS, GARLIC
AND MINCED PORK
to use filo pastry
pastry cooks quite quickly, so do you cook the ingredients
first or use them raw? In this case, pork needs to
be cooked thoroughly so it would be best to cook them
all first. Cook it as you would any savoury mince
or stir fry, drain thoroughly so you dont get
soggy pastry and fill and shape as suits you - in
a ball, a bundle, a roll, etc.
or sliced ingredients? Up to you. Do you prefer your
mushrooms sliced so you can see them, or do you prefer
them all minced up?
seasonings do you use? What do you like? What do you
have at hand? It could be plain salt and pepper, maybe
some green peppercorns, maybe given the ingredients
use Asian seasonings, like soy sauce or Thai fish
sauce in place of salt, maybe some Thai sweet chilli
sauce, Worcester sauce . . . we all serve apple sauce
with roast pork, why not add some diced apple in there?
if you add the apple and you dont like it? Let
me tell you a secret. Professional chefs would never
place a new dish on the menu and serve it to their
guests without having previously tried it. Make your
basic mix, make a small version up with the apple,
taste it and be your own critic!
SOUP WITH ORANGE
had this soup at a friends and cant seem to get
the flavour and intensity? Carrots and orange is a marriage
of flavours made in heaven!
carrot, raisins and orange juice is a great salad
cooked with carrot juice and orange is a dish
you have to taste to believe!
the key to all this and many dishes that use juices,
wines and other liquid flavours (Port, Madeira, Whisky,
etc) is that you want the flavours of what you are
using not everything swimming in liquid. The secret
here is to reduce the liquid first. Place the juice
in a pan and simmer until it reduces down to approximately
one-fifth of the original amount. The water content
is evaporated off and therefore the flavours are intensified.
does this have to do with the carrot and orange
soup? From reading all that came before, most
of you will be correctly thinking "Hmmm, make
a carrot soup, reduce the orange juice and add it right
at the end. Not enough orange? I know! reduce some more
and add more in".
of you who were thinking along those lines are now getting
into the Cooking without Recipes frame of mind and are
starting to use those senses.
WITH ROCKET LETTUCE, PARMESAN, OLIVES, BACON AND ROASTED
what can I say here? To start with use the best ingredients
you can afford to. But remember not all olives are
created equal and cheap stuffed olives are no real
replacement for good Kalamata olives. A good smoked
bacon is not the same as the cheap, watery budget
brand at the supermarket. The lesson here is, use
watered down ingredients and a watered down version
of the dish is the likely result.
orange vinaigrette? Roast the oranges the same way
as you do for garlic, but the time will need to be
increased because in this case you are roasting to
intensify the flavours by drying the orange out. (Remember
the reducing of the orange juice? It is the same principle
applied slightly differently).
the peel from the oranges, (set some aside for later)
place into some orange juice and reduce as before.
the salad, add in the roasted oranges, cut into slices
or segments, finish with some of the roasted peel
cut into fine strips.
the orange juice in place of the vinegar for the dressing
(a little vinegar can be also used if preferred) and
pour over the salad or serve separately
does all this tell us teach us? That sometimes there
are times in cooking when we need to rely on our senses,
that sometimes the greatest cooking skill that can be
learnt is not to be afraid of experimentation, that
to achieve perfect dishes we must be prepared to practice
them, to adjust them to suit our own tastes, to use
the best ingredients to get the best results . . . and
the best is not necessarily the most costly!
written a longer than normal column on Cooking without
Recipes it is perhaps ironic that it is dotted with
links to various recipes! But hopefully those few recipes
will help you learn and use them as a springboard for
other ideas, using the techniques to apply elsewhere
for many, many happy and delicious meals.
and bon appetit . . . . .
quantity (add to taste)
meaning a whole one of
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