Adventures in Bachelor Cookery, part 1: Introduction, Kit and Principles
By davew on Mar 06, 2006
So, I'm going to teach myself to cook. This is a pretty tall order, given the huge range of cuisines the world has produced, so which one to begin with?
The decision was made, shortly after New Year, when having lunch at Wagamama Basingstoke, part of my favourite chain of Japanese-style restaurants with locations outside London.
I found that Wagamama had published a cookbook. Better still, that afternoon in Tesco (the UK's largest supermarket chain, for folk outside the UK reading this, and the place I've essentially lived out of for at least 10 years shopping-wise), I found an Oriental cooking set, comprising a wok and spatula, 4 melamine bowls and spoons, 8 chopsticks and a basic cookery book, for 4 pounds 50 on remainder after Christmas.
Game on :-).
PJ O'Rourke, one of my favourite humourists, managed to almost perfectly sum up the spirit of bachelor cookery in his book "The Bachelor Home Companion".
PJ says "if you think of cooking as setting fire to things and making a mess, it's fun". I'd add "playing around with big knives and occasionally obliterating perfectly good pieces of dead flesh in ways which make you think of classic Sci-Fi death rays" to that, but more on the "obliteration" angle later :-).
So, other than ingredients, what do you need to start oriental cooking, and what are the core principles?
Here's the kit I have:
- regular 4-burner gas hob (much more controllable and intense than electric)
- wok (the aforementioned absurdly cheap one)
- small saucepan and lid (for boiing rice)
- big heavy frying pan (for frying rice post-boiling, and dealing with steaks)
- chopping board
- Bloody Great Knife (in my case, a 10" Sabatier)
As I don't want to ruin said Bloody Great Knife by sharpening it ham-fistedly, I'm fortunate in that the cooks in the (thoroughly excellent, bless them) local pub where I drink regularly are more than happy to keep my knife sharp for me, provided I bring it in wrapped-up and in a zipped-closed bag. They spend maybe 5 minutes doing their stuff, and return it similarly wrapped and so sharp it can almost cut daylight. You might not be so fortunate, but I hope you are.
So, kitted out, I pulled the contents of the Wagamama cookbook off the page and into my brain, and divined some generalisations and conclusions, which I consider to be "core principles", as well as spotting a couple of recipes to start off with. The core principles are:
- there's no substiute for heat, except perhaps more heat
- close interconnecting doors, activate cooker extractor hood and open windows - you're going to be making smoke, and you don't want your smoke detectors going off
- keep everything moving quickly once you start cooking
- cooking is all about buying good ingredients and then working with them so quickly that you don't ruin them (with the exception of marinading, more later)
- cooking is a very fast process, so be sure to have all necessary ingredients chopped, prepped and within easy reach ("prior prep prevents..." and all that) - along with a plate or bowl to decant the finished food into
- be prepared to take huge liberties with recipes, as some ingredients are almost impossible to source in the UK outside London (note to readers; if anyone can point me at a source of Gyoza skins within easy drive of Basingstoke, I'm all ears - otherwise, I'll have to figure out how to make them from scratch and will Get It Horribly Wrong for a while)
- keep a pint of beer to hand - rather than do the whole Keith Floyd "get plastered on wine while cooking" thing, I prefer wine with food but beer while preparing food :-)