Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Chinese Fettuccine, or "Be Brave; Food can Smell Fear"

As anybody who had a television in the '80s can tell you, you should not fear cooking. This message was drilled into our brains every time Jeff Smith or Julia Child appeared on PBS. Which was often. (Also, a cookie or a bubble bath can distract you from the fact that you live in a slum and your neighbors are made of felt. But that's another story.) Jeff Smith would drop whole plates off-screen or hammer flat a piece of steak with a 2x4 and tell you that the racket is fine, even marvelous. Julia Child made dropping a raw chicken part of her schtick when she did live cooking demonstrations. Who cares? Just cook! Never apologize.

But for all this ego-building positive propaganda, I still worry about what I cook. I want my husband to rave to whoever husbands rave to that I'm an amazing cook. That everything I touch turns to braised pork shoulder. That I know just how to turn out vegetables and grains and whole nutrition that everybody will just love. Which happens, of course, only in my memory when I've had too much wine with dinner. And I think you know the truth: I try hard, but Jesus, who can't pull off banana bread? [thumbs pointing] This woman.

This fear of failure is why I have never tried using Italian-style pastas in Asian dishes. When we were jonesing for some Chinese food but way, way, way over budget, we dared to do our best to make some sort of stir-fry using whatever pasta we had in the pantry. We'd be brave!

We had fettuccine.


With a full box of breakfast cereal at the ready (plan B), I boiled the fettuccine until it was al dente. The usual. Now I am incapable of getting everything in a stir-fry ready at the same time in one pot so the myth of the easy and dish-free stir fry is just that, mythical. First, I stir-fried some carrots, then broccoli, then took half a chicken breast and chopped it up crazy fine. (Use two butcher knives and go all Swedish Chef on it. Why not?) While everything else was cooking I had the chicken soaking in soy sauce and grated ginger. Which by the way keeps peeled and wrapped in the freezer for, I don't know, forever? It's been a year for mine and it still tastes like ginger. In went the chicken for a few minutes, then the veg again, then the pasta with a good glug of soy sauce and reserved pasta water as needed. And?
You can totally use pasta as Chinese noodles. HOLY CRAP!

And considering I have three kinds of boiled eggs pickling in the fridge, I thought it would be a good time to break out the soy sauce eggs. Boiled, peeled, and soaked in straight soy sauce for a week.
They were just as mouth-numbingly salty as you'd expect.

I also broiled up a baby bok choy head, quartered. Woof. After starting my silpat on fire--they are only good up to about 400 degrees and my broiler defaults at 550, which I am well aware of but constantly forget--we moved to no mat, then foil, then foil on top of the flaming leaves. And for all that hard work I burned the garlic I'd seasoned the bok with and the top layer was bitter to beat the band. Oh, and you'll notice there are two eggs in the middle photo and 3/4 of an egg in the above photo? That's because I dropped a half. The dogs ate it and now have high-blood pressure.

The things I thought would be nice, the bok choy and the fancy eggs, bombed. And the one thing I thought would bomb, the fettuccine, was delicious. So if you're like me and blessed with ample cowardice humility, may I offer some advice? You have no right to be afraid of your cooking. Fact is, you probably don't know your ass from a hole in the ground. Don't sabotage yourself. Just cook! Do not be afraid. Odds are you will luck out more often than not.

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