Last week, just a few days before my 12th wedding anniversary, I made what I believe were almost-perfect mushrooms — aromatic, fried slowly to golden crispness in small pools of butter.
We ate them with some wonderful rosemary bread baked by the husband, and a colourful confetti salad of sweet corn, finely diced peppers, cabbage, carrot, pomegranate and toasted sesame.
Everything turned out so well that we felt fine china and a bottle of wine were in order! As we put out the special plates and good cutlery and poured the wine, we couldn’t stop ‘tasting’ our creations and congratulating ourselves.
Through the meal and after, I couldn’t help wondering what had made that food so perfect. And then it struck me… patience! Not only is patience a virtue, when it comes to the kitchen, it is an incredibly important ingredient.
I first began thinking about patience as an ingredient when I was conducting my beginners’ cooking class for men last month. All the guys wanted everything done fast. They loved working with the chorizo, cheese and meat. Most of all, they loved the induction plate, because it sped things up.
Even here at home, when my husband first began to bake, he was always in a hurry, never looking at recipes. Even in dishes made by my mother, one of the finest cooks I know, you could always sense impatience because it had caused her to forget something.
Mushrooms, curries, meats, cakes, elaborate desserts, even instant noodles require ladlefuls of patience. Add noodles too quickly to lukewarm water and you’ll be left with soggy, flavourless mush. Whatever you cook, every dish and every ingredient needs time to do its job.
Think about it, even something as simple as salted cucumber takes a few seconds. Sprinkle salt and eat immediately and you will taste grains of salt. Wait a little, and the salt will draw out the juices, making it perfect.
It has taken my husband and me a while to learn to be patient in the kitchen, but everything we cook today is better for it. This week, for instance, I made a fried egg that the husband complimented me on because it was so smooth, sans bubbles and craters. An omelette cooked on a low flame too will always come off the pan beautifully golden, rather than with that detestable brown underside. A gentle flame always yields better results.
I guess, in that sense, you should treat every dish like a relationship. However short your tryst with it, you must give it time for best results. A flame higher than medium-low is the culinary equivalent of coming on too strong or overreacting to the little things.
Instead, just wait it out, and you will strike gold.
Be prepared: In chefs’ lingo, this is called ‘mise en place’ or ‘everything in its place’. Before you start cooking, take the time to lay out all your ingredients and to cut, chop and prepare everything that you will need. That minute spent searching for a spice your dish could go from masterpiece to disaster.
Be patient: When food is on the flame, let it cook. Fiddling with it, turning it over or stirring it more than required will just cause it to break down or get too dry. This is especially true of meat.
(Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal is an author, blogger and food consultant.)