Making good food is mostly about salt.
Great chefs have an inborn intelligence for this, and in each seemingly careless sprinkle or pour is a measure of their animal instinct. Mortals like you and me have to be more careful with our seasoning. Because salt is pure taste–it’s the only thing that can make food taste more like itself–and it’s the foundation on which everything good and holy and savory is built.
Take the salt cure. Curing meat and fish is a timeless thing, born once of necessity and sustained now by the unassailable logic of pleasure. I can think of nothing I’d rather eat than a fatty, paper-thin slice of prosciutto or lox with a hunk of good bread. Better than sex? Maybe. Sometimes. It’s enough to make my day, anyway. This food is magic. Maybe it’s the raw, luxurious texture, maybe the seductive chemistry of salt and fat, that can explain my gut-deep hunger for it. Maybe explaining a hunger is beside the point. Continue reading
Of all the aromatics, onions are by far the most unloved.
I think of garlic and the romance of its mythology, the widely-trumpeted healthfulness of carrots, the seductive, far-away aroma of ginger and scallions. But onions. At my university, boys eat onions raw as part of a hazing ritual. They eat onions joylessly to win access to an endless world of warm beer and tungsten-lit, stale-smelling halls. It is meant as a punishment, but I wonder which part. After all, to eat a raw onion would not be so punishing if the onion were sweet. I’ve seen a man pluck a Vidalia from the dirt and bite into it lustfully, calling it sweeter than an apple.
Sweeter, indeed. Cook an onion long enough and it will turn to candy. Cook it a little longer and it will melt completely away. But onions in their most conspicuous form are battered and fried, or else sliced thick and scattered over salads, a garish, inedible purple garnish. I know of at least two people who refuse to eat them. And no wonder. It’s easy to write off onions as a clumsy and pedestrian vegetable. Onions sometimes speak too loudly. But it is impossible to forget, once tasted, the sublimity of an onion well-tended and well-loved. Continue reading
My uncle says he never feels full after a meal unless he’s had some meat.
The man loves steak. He lives in China now, Nanjing, and he says the most impressive cut he can find is maybe an inch thick. And that’s if he’s lucky. There’s good food to be had in China, but none of the ostentatious, excessive hunks of meat we have here, fatty and red and well-marbled. Say it with me: I am complicatedly proud to be an American. I am thankful for the Whole Foods down the street.
Thinking of my uncle in China—there with his wealth of handmade noodles and his poverty of steak—doesn’t exactly sink me into a true blue melancholy, but some sadness filters through, maybe sympathy. Steak is complicated. Steak is cruel. But steak is also very good. When I eat meat something inside me quivers and growls, and I can imagine, I am convinced, that the act is necessary for my survival. Continue reading