Springboard to creativity
Master the basics and then you have the world on your plate
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.