Cooking Rules to Break at Will

As they say, rules are made to be broken! I agree! Especially when cooking.

Of course, you need to KNOW the rules in order to break them well, but there’s a LOT more wiggle room when cooking than Food Network would lead you to believe.

Today, I watched a quick cooking video by Jacques Pépin on FB [SHOUT OUT to Nick for getting me Cooking My Way SIGNED TO ME for my birthday!!!] . It was a pasta dish. As he’s cooking he mentions that he does not like pasta cooked al dente. ::angels singing:: NEITHER DO I! [Al dente means that there is a bit of raw pasta in the center when you break a piece of it and/or it is still a little stiff.] For most uses, I like my pasta just past al dente, except for mac n cheese. I’m sorry Food Network, but mac n cheese pasta should be SOFT. Ain’t nobody wanting al dente nonsense in their mac n cheese!

Another Southern rule: too much dressing. I counter that “too much” is an OPINION. I will grant that you can “overdress” really soft lettuces and spinach – they will wilt and that is gross. But sturdy lettuces and cabbage? DROWN IT. If there ain’t a puddle at the bottom, it ain’t enough. FIGHT ME.

I also stand by my use of SALTED butter. That’s right, SALTED. I’ve used it 100% of the time as long as I’ve cooked and guess what? It makes zero difference. Even in baking. [I heard that GASP. Shut it.] The old saw is that you “can’t control” the salt if you use salted butter. That is nonsense. If you use the same butter, then it should be consistent, right? It’s been my experience that all grade A salted butter has similar salt content. French or Irish butter is a different animal. Every sweet recipe on the planet will call for a tiny amount of salt. OR you can use salted butter and call it a day. I made a recipe that called for unsalted butter and after my friend got over her heart palpitations that I used salted, she said the recipe tasted the same. MY POINT EXACTLY.

The judges on these shows clutch their pearls when a cook uses a wet measure for dry ingredients or vice versa. PUHLEASE. There is very little difference between the two. If you are baking, you should be using weight rather than volume anyway, so who cares? [I weigh my pasta flours rather than use volume, but it’s not necessary.] I saw an IRON CHEF use a wet measure for flour and no one batted an eye.

The judges also whine when they see peppers being roasted on a gas stove flame. They will insist they can “taste the gas” in the roasted peppers. Bullshit. But they’ll be fine with it if a celebrity chef does the very same thing.

Judges also ding cooks for using canned tomatoes. Again: BULLSHIT. Italians use canned tomatoes ALL THE TIME. Giada Di Laurentiis uses them pretty much exclusively on her show Everyday Italian. If I hear ONE MORE JUDGE bitch about canned tomatoes, I may have a conniption. Scott Conant is THE WORST for this. He whiiiinnneeesss about the “canned taste”. OMFG. Get over yourself. Everyone uses canned tomatoes, canned beans and dried pasta. Millions of Italians can’t be wrong. I use dried pasta for most dishes, but I do enjoy making pasta as well. They are totally different beasts and really cannot be compared. I do like fresh stuffed pastas such as ravioli or agnolotti.

Which brings me to overall bias in these Food Network cooking contests. There is a different set of judging rules for celebrity chefs over “regular” chefs and yet another for “home cooks”. I don’t mind judges being kinder to home cooks, but I DO mind when they are judging each other, and suddenly the hard and fast rules aren’t really important. I also see a lot of piling on, especially on Chopped. If one judge points out some nitpicky thing, you can be sure the others will glom on and point it out, too. The gas roasting is a favourite for this behaviour, as is the canned tomatoes. STAHP!

Cooking is as much art as science. Yes, baking is MORE science, but there is still wiggle room in some things, such as salted vs unsalted butter.

So, use that salted butter! Roast those peppers on the stove! Cook your pasta AS YOU LIKE IT! Measure with any vessel that’s handy! Drown that slaw! These are small, insignificant things that really only matter in a cooking competition – and even then, not as much as they act like it does.

Get in that kitchen and CREATE. I have failures, like any cook. Fewer than I used to, but I still have them. Even the failures are usually edible, but they have not come out as intended. Who cares? MANGIA!