Recipe for Disaster


A long time ago, I tried to cook an egg in its shell in a microwave oven. Not a good idea. The egg exploded and I've never managed to get the image completely out of my mind though at the time the incident did start me thinking. It set me on the path to cooking.

How many amateur cooks actually consider what goes in to creating a recipe? The one that always produces a known quality end-product. If it's followed exactly. Subtle flavours imparted by judicious seasoning and presentation using a creative imagination are only part of the equation. Are the ingredients themselves initially prepared in any particular way? Why? What's the reason if it's not just appearance? Slicing and dicing increases surface area so less contact time is needed to effect cooking when mixed with something else. Timing is crucial and it all depends on the overall desired effect.

At comfortable ambient temperatures, water is a liquid and not a gas. Many substances dissolve quickly and completely in water and some solids exist as a softer material. One difference between salt and sugar is how crystalline it is. Salt is a hard solid with a very regular crystal shape and sugar does not form a crystal at all. Most fats do not dissolve in pure water, but the addition of alcohol can change all this. A mixture of the two solvents is very different and creates new properties that are conducive to creative cooking and it's not just about flavour.

Dough may simply be a paste made from flour and water, but it can lead to a variety of foodstuffs like bread, pastry and pizza. The addition of different quantities of salt, sugar and eggs separately or in a precise combination will yield very different products. Cooks follow recipes though the original mixtures would have required an enormous amount of time to discover and develop what works and reject what does not work. This is very objective and does not often involve subjective opinions.

The simple egg can be large, medium or small and what do these terms mean? Compared to what? A standardised-size removes doubt. Even preparing a soft-boiled egg is not straightforward. Is the egg placed in already boiling water or in cold water which is then slowly heated to boiling? How slow is slow? And when does the three-minute period start? Done in a prescribed way with a standard-sized egg will always result in a perfectly cooked product. It may otherwise be too soft or too hard. Get it right and it's great. Get it wrong by changing a detail and it can be... a disaster.

Following recipes is easy, but creating them is much more difficult and very time intensive.

It is also why there are great chefs and just ordinary cooks.


Louis Brothnias (2012)


Creative Acre