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October 22, 2018

What’s cooking?


October 22, 2018

A famous person told me once, very angrily, that if you won’t me talk about what I want to talk about (on TV), then I’ll just discuss food for 40 minutes.

I laughed and asked him: “tell me your favourite recipe”.

He didn’t divulge but I’ll tell you mine – since I find myself in a similar situation.

This is a classic Spaghetti Bolognese by Marcella Hazan, one of Italy’s best chefs: start with a base of butter, chopped onions, carrots and celery, sauté for ten minutes, before adding minced beef. When the beef turns grey, add a litre of milk and let it simmer.

Slow simmering is an old but forgotten technique in cooking. You must take your time with food, you cannot rush it. Food is all about the waiting. If you don’t believe me, put yourself in the place of the meat.

It’s put in a pot specially made for conducting heat. What does that mean? Simply put, it’s a utensil used by the fire underneath to make the food change and conform to what you want. For the Bolognese, you’ll need a large cooking pot, big enough to hold it, and then, easy to wash off when it needs to be put away.

Cooking the meat for too long will cause it to become dry and unrelenting. Dry meat does not forgive the chef. Cooking the meat too soon will cause it to revolt, charred on the outside and raw on the inside. The best method is to slow cook in liquid, for a tender and pliable mince. And you can freeze it, for a few months – possibly years.

But I digress. After an hour, the milk should have evaporated. Add a dash of nutmeg and two-three cups of red grape juice.

The grape juice, a halal substitute for red wine, creates layers of sweetness. First, you make the meat tender and pliable and then you entice it with sweetness. It doesn’t realise it’s in a pot of fire, and even if it does, it doesn’t care. The rewards are sweet. Some parts of the meat do not conform to the siren of the grape juice. But most of it does corrupt itself with the juice’s enticing tones.

I’ve always admired how the vegetables, despite all the simmering, still have a slight crunch and their own distinct voice in the pot. The defiant carrot, the rebellious celery and the confident onion. But not for long.

After the grape juice has evaporated, add five cans of Italian peeled tomatoes and let it simmer for six-eight hours. Everyone who I have told about this recipe, at this point, rejects it. I’m sure you can get the same taste in a much easier and time efficient way, they ask. I always smirk then. No. It isn’t possible to get the same result with another recipe. I’ve tried four other recipes and all have failed. This is by far the best. And the secret is the slow heat.

Tenderise, sweeten and slow heat to perfection. This is the best way to make a Bolognese conform. After two-three hours, it will still be acidic. It will fight back. After four-five hours, it will start to give in and slowly caramelise, the tastiest morsels stuck to the sides of the pot. Six-eight hours later, the meat and the vegetables all adhere to the code of the recipe. And you are left with an amalgamation of flavours, which have learnt to not fight back but exist in whichever form you like. But be warned, overcooking can result in dry meat. And there is no better revenge than meat which you cannot bear to swallow.

The famous person who requested to be given a space to speak didn’t say much. I don’t know why he didn’t talk about food. If you can’t talk about what you want to talk about, it makes perfect sense to discuss our country’s favourite pastime.

The writer is a senior executive producer at Geo News. Twitter: @mariumch

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