Monday, November 28, 2011

Passion in the Pan; It's Always the First Time!

I love to cook. 

I love being in a kitchen, any kitchen. There's a 'buzz' that comes from familiar environs. The smells, sounds and tasks all run about the same wherever you go: scents of garlic warming in a pan, rhythmic tapping of a blade on a cutting board and requests for miracles in minutes... it!
There is a sense that something is being created; a classic dish revisited, a comforting soup simmering, or a perfectly formed loaf of bread taking shape. We may have prepared the same recipe a thousand times, but, each batch is a little different, unique.

According to a former Yankees catcher, "It's deja-vu all over again!" 
Who can forget the piercing aroma of dough rising in a warm spot of the kitchen or the golden tan of a well-tended bake? How can anyone remain unfazed while diced onions and celery slowly simmer in a stockpot, waiting for stage-two in a stewing process? 
The thrill of a new pair of pants, a crisp shirt, of cushy shoes, heck, even the smell of a new car wears off after a while, but, good cooking, now, there's something that never loses it's draw.
Have you ever walked past a pan of, oh, let's say, breakfast sausage and said,
'Ya know, that really doesn't hit me right now."? Maybe if you were sick.
"No, I'll think I'll pass on that chicken gravy made from the pan just looks kinda yucky. There's bits in it. I mean, you didn't even use a mix!"   Right-Oh, genius...real gravy does have bits, those are from the scrapings of your roasting pan.  The French call them 'les sucs', the 'sweet bits.'  All those wonderful carbohydrates turning to simple sugars, then, getting caramelized into savory brilliance!
These are the  'One-percenters' of gravy hierarchy that transform good to excellent. 

We had Thanksgiving at my work, providing a traditional turkey dinner for our senior residents and their families.  As I diced up the livers, hearts and gizzard of the birds, my lead cook asked, "So, that's for the giblet gravy?  You're gonna cook that and put it in the gravy?"

"Yessiree, Ritchie" I affirmed, "and once these little bits of deliciousness are saute'd, I'll blast them in the food processor to make them smaller for our peeps to enjoy.  Plus, it will add a texture to our gravy, like mixing in a pate'..."  My guy has been cooking for years in hospitals and isn't used to certain real cooking techniques.

"Well, this I gotta see," he huffed and walked away.

I love making gravy and have done so a thousand times.  Each time is a little different, but, all are fulfillling.  It's a simple preparation using antiquated methods that is still valid today.

Eventually, dinner was ready and we began to load up the buffet tables. 
Ritchie had a small bowl with some of his stuffing in it, covered with the turkey giblet gravy he eyed suspiciously earlier.   

"Th-th-this is a-MAZ-ing, Brian," he stammered.  Ritchie stutters when he gets excited about a topic, like a really good episode of Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune.

"Oh, you have REALLY outdone yourself on this...the residents are going to just LOVE it!" he continued, "Is this something you just made up or is this from a family recipe?  I just gotta know how you did this!"

We reviewed the process of using a stock made from turkey bones, scrapings of the roasting pans, saute'ing onions, celery and turkey giblets, blasting big pieces into bits using a food processor and thickening our sauce with a roux; a paste of wet-sand texture made of melted butter and flour.  

"That's all?  Just those things and it tastes THIS good?!" he asked, "Yeah, but, that's gonna take a lot of time; there's labor involved.  Can't we just open a can?"

"Then, you're not gonna have THIS!" I chided, reaching for his bowl of stuffing and gravy. 

"Nuh-nuh-nuh," he said, putting up an arm to shield my attack, 
"I'll make the stuffing and let YOU make the gravy.  I'm good at this and you're good at that!"


Good things from the kitchen don't have to be overly-wrought or have a laundry list of ingredients.  Sometimes it's just five things that are needed, sometimes even less.  Often, the '1%' of greatness is right in front of us, we just need to recognize it and embrace it. 

Keep the Passion in your pans!

Take care, God bless and remember: 
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends, 
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things!"

Chef bq.  

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