Spring­board to cre­ativ­ity

Mas­ter the ba­sics and then you have the world on your plate

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - ANNABEL LANGBEIN

When I was learn­ing to cook, I would fol­low ev­ery recipe to the let­ter. If the for­mula for, say, a casse­role, called for two stalks of cel­ery and I did not have them at hand, then I would not make that dish. Ditto a tea­spoon of cumin or a hand­ful of pars­ley. Back then I didn’t know that be­hind most recipes (ex­cept bak­ing, where it’s es­sen­tial to be pre­cise) is a process or tech­nique that can be ap­plied to a va­ri­ety of in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate a range of dif­fer­ent dishes. I think of it as a road map that helps you get to your des­ti­na­tion and lets you know the im­por­tant things to look for along the way, but doesn’t de­ter­mine the kind of car you’re driv­ing.

If you’re mak­ing a casse­role, for ex­am­ple, once you know the gen­eral di­rec­tion you’re head­ing you can ad lib the in­gre­di­ents to suit the sea­son, your pref­er­ences and what you have avail­able in the pantry. The things you’re look­ing for are ten­der­ness and flavour, so choose a tough, mus­cu­lar meat cut as this has lots more flavour than a ten­der one and, as a bonus, it’s also likely to be less ex­pen­sive.

Brown it in a pan with oil or but­ter, or roast it in a hot oven to brown be­fore slow-cook­ing — the carameli­sa­tion on the sur­face is known the Mail­lard re­ac­tion and pro­duces a lot of flavour. Add aro­matic veg­eta­bles such as onions, leeks, cel­ery and car­rots for flavour (re­mem­ber­ing car­rot is very sweet). Next, add liq­uid — wine, stock, a can of toma­toes, or even wa­ter — and any other flavours or in­gre­di­ents you want and let it cook over a low heat un­til ten­der. The time it takes to cook will de­pend on the cut and its size. At 150C, most tough cuts will be­come ten­der in around three hours — you can lower the tem­per­a­ture and in­crease the time, but don’t try to cook it at a high tem­per­a­ture as the meat will just dry out.

Spices, herbs and flavour­ings are the means to move your casse­role around the globe. Use curry pastes and co­conut cream, per­haps some chili or aro­mat­ics such as kaf­fir lime, le­mon­grass or co­rian­der and you take the dish into South­east Asia. Use Moroc­can spices and dried fruits and you’re in tagine coun­try, or add olives, lemon, gar­lic, oregano, rose­mary and a lit­tle vine­gar and you have all the mak­ings of a clas­sic Greek oven bake.

I like to call th­ese ver­sa­tile tech­niques “spring- boards” as they pro­vide a ground­ing that you can bounce off and ex­plore your own cre­ativ­ity. In my new book Es­sen­tial I’ve pro­vided a bunch of them, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from how to make ten­der stews, to no-stir risot­tos, one-pot pasta meals, stir-fries, noo­dle bowls, flash-roasted fish, the per­fect steak, veg­etable soups, and so on. My aim is to in­spire con­fi­dence and help you build the skills that will en­able you to use the in­gre­di­ents you have at hand and de­velop your own cook­ing style, rather than be­ing a slave to a recipe.

At the Auck­land Food Show next week­end I’ll be demon­strat­ing the fol­low­ing three spring­board recipes, sug­gest­ing ways you can take them in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions, and shar­ing some sto­ries along the way. I’m look­ing for­ward to meet­ing you there!

To see Annabel demon­strate th­ese recipes come along to the Auck­land Food Show, Thurs­day to Sun­day, July 2730 at the ASB Show­grounds. Her demon­stra­tions run from 10.30am to 11.15am each day in the Cook­ing Theatre.

Es­sen­tial Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Me­dia, $65) is a beau­ti­ful com­pen­dium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cook­ing tips and it’s on sale now at Paper Plus, Whit­coulls, The Ware­house and all good book­stores. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or fol­low Annabel on Face­book or In­sta­gram.

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