Hi Everyone, have you ever noticed how great food tastes when it’s a dish you didn’t plan or don’t quite have the ingredients for it, or you just threw it together on the spur of the moment? And have you ever noticed that if you try to replicate it, the dish itself or the flavour, it never comes close to what you remember? When this happens it is so disappointing I tell you.
One Sunday, about a month ago, I was feeling lazy and I didn’t want to cook, but because my eating options were limited – fast food – I was forced to go into the kitchen. While I like a good box of chicken and chips, I was not in the mood. And I did not feel like leaving the house. I took out the pork I had bought the day before, tossed it into a roasting pan and then I opened one of the cupboards and stood back. I randomly picked up bottles containing various sauces and condiments – soy sauce, Angostura bitters, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce and a few other things and added a splash there, a few drops here until I think it was enough. I tossed everything together – meat and the sauces. I added a few sprinklings of black pepper, a pinch of ground cloves, a little salt and set the pan in the preheated oven. Within 20 minutes, the kitchen lit up with this indescribable savoury aroma. It was one of those smells that even if you are full, you’d want to eat more. It’s the kind of aroma that if you were hungry, it would make you impatient.
After waiting for what seemed like hours, the pork was finally done baking. I let it rest as I gathered the other components of my meal – rice and peas, a little salad and baked ripe plantains. I poured myself some juice and laid the table for one. I did not know what to expect from the taste of the pork but let me tell you, the meat was so tender and flavourful. The sauce in the baking pan, man, you could have put it over anything and you’d want to eat it. Thank heavens I was eating alone because I was groaning and talking to myself. Even if you loved me dearly you would have been annoyed at my behaviour.
I have tried to replicate that taste and flavour, but to no avail.
And that was not the only time when a spur of the minute meal resulted in absolute deliciousness. For example, I can still remember the best pot of Mettagee I have ever eaten. Daddy, my uncle Freddy and older cousins were playing cards and then the next thing I knew, a pot was on the stove. This was about 10 in the night. Ground provisions were peeled in no time, coconut grated, salt fish boiled and mommy’s largest pot was on the stove to a roaring boil. I could still see the plantains at the top of the pot. No women were around in the kitchen, this was men cooking; by the time Daddy them had finished cooking it was almost midnight and we all sat down to eat. I have never, ever, eaten a Mettagee like the one I had that night, and that was so very long ago.
Fried Rice is another of those dishes that is best when made on the fly. It is also one of the most difficult to replicate. Some of the best Fried Rice I have made and eaten was made with just two or three ingredients apart from the rice itself. Sometimes I’d make it with just a bunch of shallots (green onions and ginger); sometimes with just carrots or sometimes with just eggs. When I’d buy all the ingredients I want in the Fried Rice and take my time to carefully prepare it, it would come out tasting good yes, but never the same as the ones that I just hurriedly threw together.
Cook-up Rice is another dish best thrown together. You open the fridge and you toss in a little bit of this and that, tie it all together with some coconut milk and you have something that belies a recipe.
So why is it that these impromptu meals are so delectable? Why does the ‘kitchen sink’ version of soups and casseroles and one-pot dishes always come out tasting exceptional? Why is it that so often few ingredients thrown together hurriedly are a taste sensation that leaves you wanting more? I know that some of you will say it’s because you’re hungry. Hmmm, maybe. But I also have another theory.
Maybe the very spontaneity of the act, the lack of precision in measuring ingredients, the way the spontaneous meal pushes you to sometimes ignore the supposed rules of flavour combos, maybe it is these reasons that make the off-the-cuff meals taste good. You see, I think that in cooking, as in many areas of life, rules can be very good. They can give you structure. But sometimes rules actually get in the way of creating the very meal your taste buds crave. Sticking too close to the rules can rob cooking of its creativity and I truly believe that cooking is an art. Cooking is an art in which we all participate. Like any art, we get better at it the more we do it. We might think of our every day cooking as tasty practice sessions that get us ready for the virtuoso performances – and those virtuoso performances are not only the meticulously planned meal that is like a symphony, the virtuoso performance is also that spontaneous, jazz-style free form in the kitchen where each of us comes to trust our inner chef and we create uniquely delectable dishes that satisfy our cravings and the cravings of those we invite to our table.