Frank Chen

Frank Chen

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I was reading this new blog I found called LessWrong, and they had this listicle about living a better life. Number 95 struck a chord with me.

"Some types of sophistication won't make you enjoy the object more, they'll make you enjoy it less. For example, wine snobs don't enjoy wine twice as much as you, they're more keenly aware of how most wine isn't good enough. Avoid sophistication that diminishes your enjoyment."

This coincides nicely with what David Chang has been revealing on his podcast about using the microwave to make cooking easier. His approach is unapologetically lazy and un-snobbish, which has made me realize that I'm more of a snob than I previously thought.

I have always been adamant when cooking, to do it "right". That means recreating things from scratch, making fucking curry paste in a pestle and mortar, reheating leftovers that are meant to be crispy in a cast iron pan, or re-toasting my leftover fried chicken in the oven. God forbid you catch me eating pre-prepared shit out of a box or using CANNED curry paste. A travesty, right?

Perhaps, there is a time and place for process, but if you're optimizing for a delicious outcome, there's more than one way to skin the cat. Deliciousness should rule, not the method of preparation. Microwaves are technology. So is fire. Both can lead to the end solution, which is something delicious.

I'm coming around, slowly. Sometimes you just gotta eat the goddamn Bagel Bites.

understanding cooking

Lots of people ask me what resources I frequent to be a better cook. I learned a lot of the basics through watching and imitating Gordon Ramsay, but to be honest, I don't have much patience with cookbooks. Instead, I've picked up the fundamentals of cooking science, and learned why certain actions are done a certain way. Sometimes though, it's just fundamental culinary vocabulary, like mirepoix is onion, carrot, and celery, and sofrito is garlic, onions, peppers, and tomatoes sweated off in olive oil.

Here's a pro-tip. If I don't understand something, the recipe is not the place that usually tells me why. I Google "[whatever it is I don't understand] serious eats". Kenji López-Alt, Harold Mcgee, or some other food scientist has most likely has written some kind of topic on it.

You'll think it's so much annoying work looking up what happens when water interacts with gluten in your pasta dough, why things sizzle, or why your vinaigrette breaks, but trust me - once you know the scientific reason and concept behind it, you will better understand what you're doing and why.

There's also the physical side of cooking. This means moving with a sense of urgency, fast knife skills, and intuition on when things are ready or are about to go bad. This comes with burning yourself in the kitchen, repetition, and cooking less than perfect meals over and over again. No way out of that.

on menu

I've been eating a lot of fresh popcorn lately, and I threw out a non-stick pot that we usually make our popcorn in.

Post-trashing of that particular pot, I found out that all of our popcorn was coming out stale. Hot off the stove, stale-like texture, and at times, half popped. It was terrible. I go the olive oil and salt route. Nothing fancy.

"What the fuck is happening," I said. This was in a comical tone while shoving popcorn in my mouth, chewing realllllly slowly to protect my teeth.

Popcorn pops because the water content in the kernel turns to steam. So half-popped kernels meant the water was not fully converting to steam. That meant the pot needed to reach temperature and the kernels needed to be heated evenly. So, we tried a non non-stick pot (a stick pot?) and we got fully popped kernels, but the popcorn was still gummy and taffy-like.

"What the actual fuck is happening," I said. "The pot shouldn't matter. What made the non-stick pot special?"Maybe it's old kernels?" I was not sure if old kernels meant "dried out" or "bad taste and stale", but we did store our kernels in airtight jars. We bought some new popcorn anyway and tried again.

Same result. "What the actual actual fuck is happening," I said. Of course, I was eating the shitty popcorn while thinking about it. The popcorn was fully popping so we were reaching temperature. Not old kernels.

I then thought about the popping mechanism I'd seen at movie theaters. A metal pot with those flappy loose metal ears that allowed popcorn to just fall out. I wasn't going to recreate escaping popcorn, but that did mean a loose-fitting lid. So, I tried popping with the lid cracked.

The results were instantly better. Turns out, the steam generated from the popcorn recirculated within the pot and made the batch lose its crispiness. The old pot simply had better ventilation than the current pot.

Ventilate your popcorn, folks.

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