Making a great dinner

March 7, 2006

Last night I made a decent dinner. Decent may be an understatement, but I’ll let you decide. Wild sockeye salmon in garlic butter, sauteed mushrooms (also in garlic butter), asparagus, a baked red potato, diced tomatoes in a spicy vinaigrette, and accompanied by sourdough french bread and chai tea. It was actually to my benefit this time to have a small kitchen because I was cooking so fast that having pieces further apart would have given me more trouble. I even had my timing correct so that all of the dishes were ready at roughly the same time, and believe me, knowing when to start the water boiling so that it’ll be boiling 3 minutes before the salmon is done is as much an art as it is a science. The neat thing was that I was able to do all the prep work as I was cooking, so from start to finish was just about 15 minutes.

Sometimes quick dinners turn out very well. The other night I combined the two ingredients in my fridge that were not condiments. My cod and celery combination actually turned out to be a spectacular dish. Sometimes I make a horrible mistake; do not ruin salmon with barbeque sauce. But those are opportunities to learn.

If there’s one thing I learned from Iron Chef, it’s that ingredients are the building blocks with which gustatory art is created, and creativity and willingness to match ingredients, coupled with a foundation of knowledge about the indredient and what it can and cannot do, are an extremely important set of skills in cooking. I didn’t learn to cook from Iron Chef. Who uses white truffles or foie gras regularly anyway? No, their knowledge of exotic ingredients is useless to me. What I learned is how to use timing, how to use smells, how to think about the ingredients, and how to come up with creative solutions for new dishes.

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