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Transform your food, then let it transform you

December, 2009

Fundamentally, cooking is about transformation.

I was thinking about this while eating lunch. Lunch, chez nous, is invariably a transformation: last night’s roast beef, sliced thin and served cold with salad, or an omelet wrapped around day-old cooked vegetables and freshly grated cheese.

More often, the transformation is in the guise of soup. The process begins several meals back. For the first, I focus on the freshness of the market – vegetables simply prepared and fish or meat, dashed with salt and pepper and broiled or fried quickly to sear in the flavours. Next day, the cold salmon gets chopped into salad or the chicken supplements pasta. The day after that, I heat up broth and serve chicken noodle soup, or with the fish and salad I might add stock plus Thai seasonings or Vietnamese fish sauce and head in an oriental direction.

Today’s lunch brought together chicken broth, itself a reduction of water, vegetable ends and bones from last week’s roasted chicken, with leftover fried rice and frozen shrimp. The fried rice was initially served steamed, so it has now gone through two transformations. With each version I add a new dynamic. It could be soy sauce or a curry, a spicy tomato sauce, perhaps highly seasoned bits of smoked meat, a can of lentils or chick peas. We are now into the realms of stews, gumbos, chowders and chili. If I want something more refined, I throw everything into the blender. Then I heat up the slurry, sprinkle chopped herbs (celery, chives, parsley or marjoram are all great) and spoon on a dollop of yogourt or sour cream at the table.

Recently, I’ve been re-reading Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home. When it comes to home cooking, there are approaches more comforting than Hamersley’s, which leans toward gourmand rather than gourmet. Here is a version of his bistro-style steak, which we made recently with a small piece of prime rib (1.5 kilos or about three pounds – perfect for two) we got on sale at Metro.

First, make garlic butter. This will have a dozen uses, so it is worth the effort. Mash two or three cloves of garlic with some salt, pepper and thyme. I use a mortar and pestle for this, but a food processor works well, too. Mix this into a softened stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter. Mold the butter into a log and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Take a thick steak (or, in our case, the roast) and let it come to room temperature. Dry any moisture with a paper towel and pat it liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Melt half the garlic butter in a small pan. Heat the oven to 425F (about 220C). When the oven is ready, take an oven-proof frying pan big enough for the meat, pour in several tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat until the oil is very hot, but not smoking. Put the steak in and cook it for five minutes on one side. Be sure not to move it – it will from a beautiful crust. Turn the meat over, brush the crust with some of the melted garlic butter then put it in the oven for five to 15 minutes more, depending on the thickness. Remove it every few minutes to brush it with more garlic butter and check the temperature. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, take the meat from the oven when it reaches 130F (about 55C). If you are not using a thermometer, insert a sharp, thin knife into the meat. If the blade is cool to the touch, the meat should cook more. It is ready (and rare) as soon as the blade is too hot to touch. Let the meat rest for five to 10 minutes on a warm plate before carving. This ensures that the juices stay in the meat when you slice it.

While the meat rests, pour the fat from the pan, add the rest of the melted garlic butter and a half cup of red wine or chicken stock. Heat the sauce, scraping any caramelized bits of meat from the pan. Cook to reduce the liquid to a quarter cup. Pour this over the meat while serving. Eat slowly. It’s a transforming experience.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at flavourguy@thesenior



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