Monday, November 29, 2010

Why I’m Not a Good Cook

I’m not. I’m passable by male standards, and definitely better than some people (The Greek, for instance, who reputedly had to ask his girlfriend when water was boiling). But that’s like beating your 7 year old cousin in the ‘why do you keep hitting yourself?’ game.

The problem I have with cooking is that I don’t know what the margin of error is on each step. And it’s typically very hard to find out. This makes the whole process very stressful, because you end up second guessing every decision and not knowing whether you’re screwing it up. And of course, when you do screw it up, there’s been at least 5 steps where you didn’t quite know what you were doing, and so you don’t even have good feedback of what needs to be fixed next time.

For instance, the recipe will say ‘brown the beef’. And I find myself thinking ‘Well, it’s KINDA brown. I mean, there’s some odd bits that aren’t brown, but then again it’s been in there a few minutes and doesn’t seem to be getting any browner. Does that mean it’s done?’. What you’d actually like is instructions that say ‘brown the beef until you absolutely can’t see any pink (which should take about 5 minutes), and if you have any doubt, cook it another 5 minutes, it’s better to cook too long than too short’. THAT, I can work with! 
But that’s never what they write.

Or even better, you get joint instructions with no indication of which clause takes precedence. E.g.’ Cook for 5 minutes on a low heat until the butter and sugar begin to caramelize.’ Boy, was that a disaster. What inevitably happens is you cook it for 5 minutes on a low heat, and nothing happens. Now, to an experienced cook, it’s obvious what to do. But to a clown like me, I find myself wondering ‘Okay, given it hasn’t caramelized, do I:
a) Take if off the stove (pretty sure that’s not the answer)
b) Cook it on the same heat for longer
c) Turn up the heat.

Intuition told me to go with option b). But then you keep heating it for 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and the damn thing still hasn’t caramelised. Then you start to second guess yourself – surely the cooking time isn’t off by 200%? Perhaps my heat is actually too low, and that’s why nothing is happening! So you turn it up, which leads to disaster about 13 seconds later. Out of my failed experiment at Bananas Foster, the only useful knowledge I gained is that butter and sugar, when heated long enough, can make a very serviceable substitute for napalm.

I’m sure there are plenty of cookbooks that answer these questions, but I’m too lazy to investigate in detail. Which, let’s face it, is the real reason I’m not a good cook.

1 comment:

  1. I think you should look for recipes online with step-by-step pictures...... there are plenty of them on food blogs and it takes some of the "does this look right" out of the equation. That's modern technology filling the information gap for you.

    I think the other thing to remember is that every good cook has their disaster stories, that's the only way you work out just what physical/chemical processes can go on with super heated butter & sugar. So, the moral of the story is "just keep experimenting"