Frank Chen

Frank Chen

knowing the fundamentals of cooking means infinite recipes

Recently, I was asked the question "what go to recipes do you use?"

I sat there, quiet. I didn't blurt out any recipes. My mind quickly wandered to my latest concoctions involving poached fish, stuffed pork shoulder, fried artichokes, fresh pasta in ragu, and ramen from scratch, but I wasn't about to fucking lie.

I make multi-ingredient meals from scratch, but I don't do the multi-ingredient gig everyday (yet 😂). I can't say any of those are "go-to" recipes.

I responded.

"I don't really use recipes. Most of the time, I source great ingredients, and then I mix and match maybe one or two, and the rest is just proper seasoning, appropriate fat sources, and an acid source. Dinner for two takes about 20-30 minutes." I then gave some examples.

  • eggs, sunny side up or fried or over medium, olive oil or butter, kosher salt
  • zucchinis, diced & browned, dried oregano, kosher salt, lemon juice
  • mahi mahi fillets, browned, cracked pepper, kosher salt, lemon juice
  • corn, scallions, browned, lime zest, cracked black pepper, kosher salt, lime juice
  • local sausages, browned
  • dry brined chicken thighs, browned, fresh rosemary, lemon zest, kosher salt
  • blanched broccolini, browned, cracked black pepper, kosher salt, lemon juice
  • 2-3 hour simmered chicken meat, carrot, celery, onion, kosher salt
  • bitter mustard greens, high heat wok sauté, sesame oil, soy sauce
  • baked eggplant, finished in simmered tomato, garlic, butter, kosher salt
  • heirloom tomatoes, english cucumbers, cilantro, diced, spicy olive oil, kosher salt
  • spaghetti squash, lemon zest, cracked black pepper, kosher salt, lemon juice
  • etc

Sure, it's simple, but if you think about it, there is no complexity to hide behind. No béchamel sauce, no curry powder mixes, no crazy green umami pesto. If you fuck up the cooking, the seasoning, or the acidity, YOU WILL KNOW, and so will your partner, in my case. Things like getting a fillet of fish with a crispy top and moist, juicy innards is a thing of beauty.

This approach has the advantage of ensuring that the ingredients you buy are great on their own, and the simplicity really builds your tasting skills.

Time and place for everything though. I do enjoy making things like fresh egg pasta, creamy Tuscan shrimp, and tonkatsu broth from scratch 🙃. All other times, I'm relying on intuitive cooking and delicious ingredients.

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