User Tools

Site Tools


cooked_by_pollan

Cooked — Michael Pollan

Above all else, what I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects. (p. 18, italics by the reader)

Specialization is undeniably a powerful social and economic force. And yet it is also debilitating. It breeds helplessness, dependence, and ignorance and, eventually, it undermines any sense of responsibility. (…) it obscures the lines of connection, and therefore responsibility, between our everyday acts and their real-world consequences. (…) Perhaps what most commends cooking to me is that it offers a powerful corrective to this way of being in the world - a corrective that is still available to all of us.

In a world where so few of us are obliged to cook at all anymore, to choose to do so is to lodge a protest against specialization - against the total rationalization of life. Against the infiltration of commercial interests into every last cranny of our lives. (…) Cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: it transforms us, too, from mere consumers into producers.

FIRE the control of fire

According to Levi-Strauss the distinction between “the raw” and “the cooked” has served many cultures as the great trope for the difference between animals and people. (…) Cooking transforms nature and, by doing so, elevates us above that state, making us human.

The braise or boil, since it cooks meat all the way through, achieves a more complete transcendence of the animal, and perhaps the animal in us, than does grilling over a fire, which leaves its object partly or entirely intact, and ofen leaves a trace of blood - a visible reminder, in other words, that this is a formerliy living creature we're feasting on.

But I suspect that , as much as anything else, grilling meat over a fire today commemorates the transformative power of cooking itself, which never appears so bright or explicit as when wood and fire and flesh are brought togehter under that aromatic empire of smoke.

Cooking, even though it may start by breaking things down, is the opposite of entropy, erecting complex new molecular structures from simpler forms.

Yet however arbitrary such prohibitions may be, they retain the power to knit us together, help forge a collective identity: We are the people who don't eat pork. (…) forms of social glue

Compared with the contemporary chef, the pit masters present themselves less as artists than as prietsts (…) They're allowed to boast, because they don't stand for themselves so much as for an ideal or, better yet, a tribe - the community defined by their style of barbecue.

The microwave is as antisocial as the cook fire is communal.

WATER

That is (…) how economists seem to view the question of work and leisure: as antithetical terms that neatly line up with the equally antithetical categories of production and consumption. (…) As a political matter, is home cooking today a reactionary or a progressive way to spend one's time?

With a modicum of technique and a little more time in the kitchen, the most flavorful food can be made from the humblest of ingredients. This enduring formula suggests that learning one's way around the kitchen - knowing what to do with the gnarly cut, the mirepoix, and the humble pot - might still be a good recipe for eating delicious food without spending much to make it. These are skills that confer a measure of independence.

(…) salt - the only mineral we deliberately eat - (…) Most of the salt we eat comes from the processed foods (…) “So, if you don't eat a lot of processed foods, you don't need to worry about it. Which means: Don't ever be afraid of salt!” (…) salt brings out the intrinsic flavors of many foods and can improve their texture and appearance.

Historically, cooking in pots with water comes much later than cooking with fire, since it awaited the development of watertight and fireproof containers in which to do it. (…) The cook pot is a kind of second human stomach, an external organ of digestion that allows us to consume plants that would otherwise be inedible or require elaborate processing. (…) the pot, by domesticating the element of water, helped us to leave behind hunting and to settle down.

(…) roasting and boiling (…) “exocuisine” and “endocuisine” (Lévi-Strauss) (…) “outside” and “inside” cooking (…)

If the first gatronomic revolution unfolded under the sign of community, gathered around the animal roasting on the fire, and the second that of the family, gathered around the stew pot, then the third one, now well under way, seems to be consecrated to the individual: Have it your way.

the “melting pot” (…) resolving the diverse flavors of our far-flung immigrant histories into a single American stew.

In the story of a stew, the pot is the stage and the water the hero (…), the elemental actor that supplies unity of character and makes things happen.

The difference between innate taste and learned smell (…)

Like salt and sugar, (umami) evokes a universally positive response and, also like them, it signals the presence of an essential nutrient, in this case protein.

But though umami can make a food taste “meaty”, meat is only one of the many sources of glutamate. (…) Ripe tomatoes, dried mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, cured anchovies, and a great many fermented foods (including soy sauce and miso paste) contain high levels of glutamte (…) A bit like salt, glutamate seems to italicize the taste of foods, but, unlike salt, it doens't have an instantly recognizable taste of its own. (…) It's possible that the umami chemicals activate not only the sense of taste in our mouths, but also trip the sense of touch as well, creating an illusion of “body”.

(…) dashi, the classic Japanese stock (…) a cooking water designed, albeit unwittingly, to contain as much umami and as little of anything else as possible (…) made from dried seaweed, shavings from a cured fish, and optionally, a dried mushroom or two. But it so happens that each of those items contains a different one of the three principal umami chemicals. Put all three in water and you get synergies that vastly amplify the umami effects.

(…) human breast milk is rich in this particular (umami) taste.

“Stone soup” is the ancient parable of this everyday miracle, of turning water into food. In the story, which has been told for centuries in many different cultures (sometimes as “Nail Soup” or “Button Soup” or “Ax Soup”), some poor, hungry strangers come to town with nothing but an empty pot. The villagers refuse them food, so the strangers fill thier pot with water, drop a stone in it, and put it on to boil in the town square. This arouses the curiosity of the villagers, who ask the strangers what it is they're making. “Stone soup,” the strangers explain. “It's delicious, as you'll soon see, but it would taste even better if you could spare a little garnish to help flavor it.” So one villagers gives them a sprig of parsley. Then another remembers she has some potato peelings at home; which she fetches and drops into the pot. Someone else throws in an onion and a carrot, and then another villager offers a bone. As the kettle boils, one villager after another comes by to throw in a scrap of this, a bit of that, until the soup had thickened into something nourishing and wonderful that everyone -villagers and strangers - sits down to enjoy toghether at a great feast. “You have given us the greatest gift,” one of the village elders declares, “the secret of how to make soup from stones.”

These days, recipes are steeped in the general sense of panic about time, and so have tried to speed everything up, the better to suit “our busy lives.” In the case of braises and stews, this usually means cranking up the cooking temperature (…) Time is everything in these dishes. (…) “Smile” - hatch a tiny bubble now and then, but never boil. (…) low and slow cooking (…) Time is the missing ingredient in our recipes - and in our lives.

cooked_by_pollan.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/25 13:57 by nik