Friday, 30 January 2009

Dishy Dinners

Ingredients, Seasoning and Tasting... as in life...

Recently it struck me just how bland British cooking can be, mainly brought about as a result of a friends recent request to learn why the British shoulders shudder at the very mention of macaroni cheese and, also due in some part, to my mother's recent stay in hospital and the culinary offerings presented before her.  The hospital provided wonderful nursing but served the most unappetising food on this planet compiled by man or beast; with closed eyes a taste test would have been impossible.

At boarding school, the first lesson in food and nutrition was how to cook sausages with two spoons (so you don't break the skins) and how to make a flavoursome macaroni cheese by slightly under cooking the pasta. 

Our F & N teacher, who was also our housemistress, was a spinster called Miss Hay. She was a real dear in her 50's; it remained a mystery to me why she remained unmarried until after her retirement date, could it be she had been the inspiration for Miss Jean Brodie.  Anyway, the point of this is that she drummed into us the importance of tasting everything prior to preparation and seasoning everything we cooked; admittedly all the spices and seasonings were dried but nonetheless they did improve the flavour of our first foray into cooking.  Her words are embedded into my psyche 'There will be occasions girls, when salt and pepper is not enough, these are the basics of savory recipe seasoning, but it is the other exotic spices which bring the dish into being'.  It was only on reflection many years later that I really understood the poignancy of her words, as most of her statements were not born to be an essential point to our learning but dredged up from another internal place, the true meaning of which was buried somewhere deep within her.

Consequently, I do taste everything and find that I often don't need to use salt at all, as the ingredients can contain their own natural Sucre or piquancy without overkilling it at source, meaning the addition of salt would merely detract from the natural flavours integral to the item.

For me writing has a parallel to cooking, it is all about finding the right balance of ingredients and seasoning in order to produce a flavoursome and tasty dish, the instinct to know when 'salt and pepper is not enough' or salt is not required at all.  Too much seasoning can overburden, mask or ruin the natural characteristics of an individual flavour, killing dead the personality of an essential ingredient. One of my all time favourite screenwriting books which constantly reminds me to revisit structure is by Phil Parker called 'The Art and science of Screenwriting'. I recommend this book to anyone who writes story, even novelists who are looking for a more formulaic approach to story form.

1 comment:

Kristen In London said...

I completely love the Phil Parker book, after a screenwriting course I took two years ago. So common-sensical, so lovely. You are right: there are dishes (my sauteed broccolini tonight) that need no salt, but a year ago I'd have added it anyway. And there are sentences that need to be left alone too, for the reader to add her own flavor. It's a tricky thing. You have achieved it here, Foxie, in this post.