Go ahead, wrinkle your nose in disgust. I had the same reaction the first time someone mentioned a recipe that called for canned salmon. Isn’t that akin to 9Lives or Friskies, but for people? The thought of salmon in a can might get Morris the cat excited, but not a foodie like me.
This particular recipe, for Ginger Cilantro Salmon Cakes, ended up being served at an event here in D.C., where a number of chefs in attendance apparently tasted the salmon cakes and gave them rave reviews. Now THAT got my attention. Surely all these accomplished chefs, with palates more refined than mine, couldn’t all be wrong, or could they? To satisfy my curiosity, and to disprove the preposterous idea that canned salmon could actually be edible, I decided to put the recipe to the test at home.
When you move five times within a four-year period, it becomes achingly clear just how much “stuff” you own. And I mean that literally, having done the packing and schlepping myself for most of those moves. As you can see in these photos, my stuff tends to be of the culinary variety. Although my collection of kitchen wares doesn’t qualify me for the Hoarding Hall-of-Fame like a Collyer brother or Bouvier Beale sister, it has nonetheless gotten a bit out of control.
Perhaps having a plethora of kitchen tools is the home cook’s equivalent of Linus’s blanket – we feel more secure in our culinary endeavors, knowing these tools are by our side. Sounds plausible, but nah, that’s just denial talking. Lately, I’ve been feeling the urge to downsize, which got me thinking about which tools are most essential in the kitchen.
What? Brussels sprouts for dinner?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Brussels sprouts? If your early experiences with them were anything like mine, you might shudder to recall a dull green, mushy, stinky excuse for a vegetable—something to be assiduously avoided at all costs.
As I noted in an earlier post, finding those unappetizing-looking orbs on my plate was cause for subterfuge…namely, stuffing them in my pockets when my parents weren’t looking, so they could be properly disposed of in the toilet. Others find them disagreeable because of their propensity to cause potential “embarrassment,” so you might want to stay away from them if you’re on a hot dinner date.
What I am about to reveal will not paint a flattering self-portrait. It will not give you the warm-fuzzies or make you want to become my new very best friend forever (v.b.f.f.). Yet, it’s a story that plays out daily in kitchens across the country and undoubtedly is the source of “complications” in many relationships. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’m willing to own up to it, for you see:
I am an alpha cook.
There. I’ve said it. What’s an alpha cook, you ask? In a nutshell, it’s somebody who must. be. in. charge. in. the. kitchen. A dictator in an apron. A cleanliness- and order-obsessed bitch with a whisk. The person who’s not going to be nominated anytime soon for the Retro Haus Frau of the Year award. In short, me.
It wasn’t until I had to share my kitchen with a beta cook, we’ll call him B for short, that I became aware of my, shall we say, obsessive tendencies, over matters of the culinary variety. As B has learned, I will likely turn down any well-intended offers to help me put together a meal, but I will happily bask in your praise for my cooking and let you clean up the kitchen afterwards.
Somewhere out there, some of you will be nodding your head, chuckling in recognition in a slightly guilty, knowing way. Fellow alpha cooks, you know who you are. As for the rest of you, hopefully, I’ll still be able to look you in the eye after you read this.
Avec Eric is Chef Eric Ripert’s award-winning cooking show on PBS. I find myself continually impressed and inspired by his commitment to craft, as he constantly seeks new sources of inspiration and knows the value of stepping outside the kitchen walls to learn and grow as a chef. It’s also heartening to see someone so excited about food and well, just naturally exuberant. He always looks like a kid in a candy store, especially when he’s meeting and learning from other chefs, winemakers, fishermen, growers and food artisans. And I love getting a glimpse of the creative process in Le Bernardin’s kitchen, as he leads his team of cooks through tasting exercises, while they try to develop dishes based on new flavors or ingredients that he’s discovered in his travels.
Growing up, I recall lots of lazy Sunday mornings, with plenty of time for sleeping in, watching cartoons, and doing pretty much anything that didn’t involve homework. My parents would be drinking coffee in their bathrobes, while my father lorded over the newspaper, doling out sections as he saw fit. Every now and then, he’d abandon the paper and make his way into the kitchen to cook up a super-sized brunch-for-one (although sometimes he could be convinced to make extra) that always had one essential component: grits.
You see, he was a southern boy, trapped in my mother’s yankee hometown in upstate NY. Back in those days, my mom did nearly all the cooking, grilled beast notwithstanding, so anything that managed to draw my father into the kitchen surely must have been the holy grail of breakfasts. Perhaps these meals were his way of reclaiming those southern roots; but I bet it was also simply a matter of knowing how well his belly would be rewarded for the time he put in at the stove.
This was one of my favorite, go-to dishes all summer long, but it’s got potential year-round. Thank you Mark Bittman for yet another simple and tasty recipe.
Recipe: Vietnamese-Style Portobello Mushrooms – NYTimes.com.
A few tips and tweaks:
- Pan: apartment dweller that I am, I don’t have a grill, so I use a hot grill pan on the stove.
- Herbs: I tend to have cilantro around more often than mint, so that’s what I use.
- Oil: I use canola instead of peanut.
- Marinade: more time in the marinade means more flavor, so I let the mushrooms soak it up in the fridge for at least an hour, sometimes up to three.
- Serving: I serve the mushrooms over rice (usually white, but jasmine is probably better), and more importantly, save the marinade and pour it over the rice before serving. LOTS of extra flavor that way.