Monday, June 22, 2009

Cooking Under Presumption

I was clueless about dinner last night, but I happened to have some wonderful fresh shelled peas from Iacopi, cured pork belly via 4505 Meats, cured chinese sausage, leftover rice and fresh farm eggs from the market, so I went with the simplest reasoning for dinner and decided to make fried rice. It would be rather stupid to have a blog about fried rice, so I'll spare you the basics. Actually, I wanted to use the example of basic fried rice as an example for evaluating how we approach recipes and dish creation.

Fried rice is easy; it is rice cooked in a stir-frying wok/pan. The ingredients can be as simple as fresh ginger with scallions or as complicated as sea urchin with abalone. With all its variety, there are some very common ingredients and known methods. One of the most common and acceptable methods for starting a fried rice is to cook scrambled eggs on the wok until they are crushed into some sort of little brown and yellow bits. Normally the egg is so crushed and scarce that no one really seems to notice its existence. The way the egg is cooked in fried rice is a very good example of cooking under a classic and baseless presumption. It is a recipe like millions of others where chefs and home cooks alike execute faithfully without question. And even though their execution may be perfect and yield the exact desired final product, it does not mean that the dish itself is impervious to unintended flaws or age-old presumptive fallacy.

It just so happens that the egg in Chinese fried rice is a golden example. While many may enjoy putting light dots of egg in my fried rice, I actually appreciate the taste of a nice bite of egg in mine. I normally cook two small french omelette (rolled) and cut them up in a cross section to stir into my fried rice. Adding pieces of rolled eggs gives the rice a wonderful prominent egg flavor and a soft pillowy egg texture with each bite. While you may not agree that this is better for the dish than the original concept or even that this is how you want egg in Chinese fried rice, the point that I am trying to make is that the most established and classic of dishes can always be questioned or challenged. I dare you to say an brown/black egg bit on a wok tastes better than a fluffy bite of french omelette. As important as it is to understand how a technique or step is done, it is equally as important for personal culinary improvement to question how a technique or step can be improved. Cooking is a free-form art in many respects and it may have its rules and guidelines, but it does not guarantee that food is immune from being constantly challenged.

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