I’ve always loved to cook — when I was a designer, I was still a passionate cook, but my design activities allowed me to “scratch” my creative “itch.” As I’ve consciously left design behind (and that’s a whole other series), I’ve found my affinity for cooking has grown — at least in part to satisfy my need to create. Also, and I’m being totally honest here, it gives me a good excuse to buy more kitchen toys. Of course I need a microplaner.
Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve found that I’m a lot less focused on the creative chaos of intuitive cooking and a lot more focused on learning the craft of proper cooking technique (I’ve always had some talent and some training here) — I’m a lot more interested in being able to do it properly as well as making it taste good.
Knowing all this, my lovely family bought me a subscription to Masterclass — I’ve been working through the https://www.masterclass.com/classes/thomas-keller-teaches-cooking-techniques class — it’s AMAZING, and more importantly, it’s ignited a real passion in me to learn, practice and cook more.
This series is focused on that journey. I should add, that I’m also a middle-aged technology worker, so I’m heavier than I should be. After trying several different paths, I’ve found that a Keto diet works for me. As it turns out, a high-fat, low-carb diet works well with French cooking (as long as you avoid the bread :().
First meal on this journey: chinese eggplant confit with garlic and pan roasted chicken.
A couple things stood out to me as I went through the process:
1) despite feeling like I have some skill with a kitchen knife, scoring an eggplant half consistently is harder than it looks
2) I’d always thought that I needed to be careful with the balsamic vinegar — the best bite is a fully composed one with the fresh oregano, confit’d garlic, finishing salt (in my case, Maldon), and balsamic vinegar. Omitting any part, notably the vinegar, leaves the impression of something like baba ghanoush, only less seasoned. Lesson here is to make sure that each slice of eggplant is touched by the acid
3) As the eggplant and garlic cook in the oil in the oven, it smells AMAZING
This is the first time I’ve confit’d something — it’s a preservation technique that involves cooking the food in a fat for a long period of time at a low temperature (300 degrees in the oven). It’s usually associated with duck, but it can be used with many other things. I think the next thing I’ll try is portabella mushrooms or something similar (zucchini feels too similar to eggplant to me, at least right now).
The chicken is something that I’ve done multiple times before — it’s a variant of a Thomas Keller recipe, only this time, I’ve actually trussed the bird.
In full transparency, these weren’t from the same meal, but they were from the same inspiration. I cooked this while visiting my parents. The seasoning on the outside is salt and pepper. Put more salt on it than you think — as the bird roasts, it creates the most wonderful crispy skin.
Thomas Keller advocates an extremely simply seasoning approach — I’ve found that adding just a little further enhances the great flavor of the chicken. It’s also crazy easy to do — just prep and put in a 425 degree oven for ~50 or so minutes (start checking at 45 minutes).
For my palette, I’ve found that a combination of a whole garlic bulb, cut across the “equator” of the bulb, a half lemon, ~3tbsp of butter, and a bunch of sage and thyme is fantastic. The remaining half of lemon with a little more butter outside becomes the basis of a sauce to be served with the chicken (fish out the lemon, add some flower to create a roux, and add wine to deglaze the pan).
So what’s next for me? I bought duck eggs yesterday and had one for breakfast today. I’ve also found myself interested in the 5 mother sauces — I think I’m going to make another duck egg tomorrow and combine it with a béchamel sauce and some crisped (fried) dry coppa. Or maybe bacon. Or we’ll see. Other things on my mind is T.K.’s technique for preparing artichoke, making mayonnaise. More soon.