I am not posting any recipes tonight — but there is a good reason for that. One aspect of my culinary journey is the ongoing effort to reduce my dependency, not on foreign oil, but on other people’s recipes. There are countless thousands of awesome recipes out there in innumerable books and all over the internet, and I hope to make every single one of them someday as time permits. But as I develop as a cook there is an inescapable urge to do something original, something uniquely my own. I realize that at this stage of my culinary development there is little likelihood that I will break new ground that hasn’t already been trod by a thousand others before me, but the adventure is in figuring it out on my own without the benefit of their maps. Over time I expect to blaze some new trails of my own.
So with that in mind I decided it would be fun to just eyeball a few dishes and put them together on the same plate. None of these are profound or complex, but the value of the exercise is in learning how to just select a range of ingredients, apply some basic cooking techniques and flavor principles, and see what happens. The menu tonight consisted of red snapper, sweet potatoes and arugula as the main ingredients. Here’s what came out.
For the snapper, I seasoned it simply with kosher salt, white pepper and dried thyme, then gave it a low broil until it was cooked through. The sauce is a horseradish aioli (of sorts), made with roughly equal parts homemade mayo and sour cream, with a couple teaspoons of prepared horseradish mixed in and a squirt of lemon juice. I found the fish to be surprisingly meaty, and the sauce could have used a bit more horseradish, but overall we (meaning me and Laura) were pleased with the result.
The salad is simply a pile of baby arugula sprinkled with some dried cranberries and drizzled with some fig balsamic vinegar. I chose this for a couple reasons. First, I wanted some greens on the plate and decided against sautéed kale or spinach because the sweet potatoes were going to be another pan-fried dish on the same plate. And second, the balsamic added a welcome acid element to the plate and paired beautifully with the tangy sweet-tart cranberries. Again, we were happy with this dish.
The sweet potatoes, however, were my personal favorite tonight. They were peeled and bias-cut into 1/2″ thick slabs, lightly seasoned with salt, and pan-fried low and slow in some whole butter, covered with a lid to get some steam action. Sprinkle some brown sugar on both sides and let a rich glaze develop. I finished by stirring some heavy cream into the pan drippings for a delicious creamy sauce, but actually they didn’t need it because the result was already a little slice of nirvana.
That’s what happened when I just decided to free-form it. No recipes, just winging it with a few simple ingredients and techniques, and most importantly having fun as I did it. I can think of no better reason to cook (leaving aside the whole essential bodily sustenance thing). Anyway, I have every confidence that my readers will have no trouble recreating these dishes successfully with the details listed above, after which you will undoubtedly munch them down with a big happy grin on your face. Until our next adventure together: Eat well, my friends!