«TITLE PAGE WHAT’S COOKING? Roberta Ann Muir Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the coursework requirements for the degree of Master of ...»
metal rings for stacking food into towers; a pastry bag for piping potatoes; and a mandoline for slicing french-fries. He then devotes one page to pots and pans before going on to discuss ingredients. Two of the seven ingredients that he says: “make all the difference in the world” are chiffonnade of parsley and herb sprigs used for garnish. For him, a significant aspect of professional cooking is obviously assembling the finished dish in an attractive way.
Symons, A History of Cooks and Cooking, 18.
We see then that there are many tasks performed by cooks which, while not directly involving the application of heat, are part of the food preparation process: preparing food before heat is applied to it, tending to food while it is having heat applied, and presenting food once heat has been applied. I suggest that all these tasks are part of the cooking process and are, therefore ‘cooking’. What however of other food preparation tasks, which do not ever involve the application of heat, or involve very low levels of heat? How much heat needs to be applied before it is considered ‘cooking’ in the narrow dictionary sense? We will now look at food preparation techniques that can be an end in themselves, rather than a step in heat-prepared food. Some are preserving, some are processing, some are presenting; all transform the food in some way, involving a permanent change in its composition, structure or texture, which is what many of the chefs consulted earlier defined as ‘cooking’. Fernández-Armesto agrees, asking: “Why should cooking with kindled flame be privileged among all these startling ways of transforming food?”
Hot smoking involves the application of heat to food, as is evident in the texture of the fish or meat that has been hot smoked. Cold smoking however, according to Tom Stobart in The Cook’s Encyclopaedia, generally uses a temperature between 10 ºC and 29 ºC, ideally 24–27 ºC. Springs, one of Australia’s producers of premium smoked salmon, use an even lower temperature, between 15 ºC and 22 ºC.
Smoking is thought to be one of the earliest preservation techniques, practised since the late Palaeolithic Era. There is evidence of fish smoking as far back as 3,500 BC in Sumeria and approximately 2,000 BC in Ireland. Although modern food preservation methods have rendered smoking no longer necessary, many cultures enjoy the flavour and appearance of smoked foods. Slices of smoked salmon with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper are a tasty dish, with no further preparation, and no heat, required.
Tom Stobart, The Cook’s Encyclopaedia: Ingredients and Processes (N.p.: B T Batsford, 1980; reprint, London: Grub Street, 1998), s.v. “smoking.” Silvia Zola (Q.A. Manager, Springs Smoked Salmon), telephone conversation with author, 11 August 2003.
Flandrin, “The Humanization of Eating Behaviors,” 17–18.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “smoking foods.”
Like smoking, drying dates back to the late Palaeolithic Era, the two are thought to have evolved together, smoke originally being used to hasten the drying of, or to keep insects away from, meat that was hung outside to dry. Tannahill suggests that the observation that fallen fruit (figs, dates and grapes) dry naturally on the ground in hot, dry climates, could easily have been extrapolated to fish and meat.
Food can be dried naturally, by sun or wind, but a low humidity is required so that bacteria do not spoil it before it has time to dry. Drying is often preceded by salting to reduce the risk of spoilage during the time it takes for food to dry sufficiently to inhibit bacterial growth. Fernández-Armesto says: “Wind-drying, which is a specialized form of hanging, works a profound biochemical change on some foods.” It is often used as a preservation technique for food that will later be prepared by the application of heat, it can however be used as a preparation in itself. Medieval Europeans were distrustful of eating raw fruit, but were happy to eat dried figs, currants, prunes and dates imported from the Mediterranean. The dried meat known today as ‘jerky’ is a variation on the Latin American charqui. Such foods (including the South African biltong) originated as foods that could be readily carried by cowboys and other travellers and eaten without any further preparation. European dried beef preparations such as Swiss bündnerfleisch (which is dipped in wine and rubbed with salt, herbs and onion before drying); Italian bresaola and French brési are all preserved primarily by drying and then served without any further processing. Modern technology now allows foods to be dried, in any climate, in domestic and commercial driers or dehydrators.
Ham is one of the best-known salted products; it is traditionally the hind leg of a pig that has been cured by salting then drying, and sometimes smoking. Today, however, hind legs of other animals (such as Flandrin, “The Humanization of Eating Behaviors,” 17–18.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “drying.” The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “bindenfleish” and “bresaola” Stobart, The Cook’s Encyclopaedia, s.v. “drying.” goat, venison, or emu) prepared in the same way are sometimes referred to as ‘ham’. Unlike the dried meat examples above, it is the salting, rather than the drying (or smoking), that is the primary preservation factor. While most North American and British hams are heated before being served, a number of famous European hams are simply salted and dried (without smoke), then thinly sliced and served without any further preparation. Two of the most famous are Italy’s prosciutto di Parma and Spanish jamón serrano. Modern gravlax is another example of food prepared by salting and served without the application of any heat. In an introduction to a recipe for gravlax, Anton Mosimann says: “Fish … are ‘cooked’ by salt, sugar and dill”. Vegetables with high water content are sometimes prepared by salting, not as a preservation technique but to alter their texture to one more desirable for the finished dish. Cucumbers, for example, are sometimes salted before being used in salads, to prevent their excess moisture from diluting the dressing and making the salad too watery.
Preparing food for eating, or preserving it, by controlled putrefaction is another process probably discovered by accident and developed through trial and error over the millennia. Fernández-Armesto says that “Hanging meat to make it gamy, or just leaving it around to rot a little, is a way of processing for texture and digestibility: it is obviously an older technique than cooking by means of fire.” Meat prepared in this way is rarely eaten without further preparation. Traditional Scandinavian gravlaks (or gravlax), on the other hand, was prepared ready to be eaten by controlled putrefaction, as the name suggests: “grav” meaning buried and “laks” or “lax” meaning salmon. Either the fish were salted, stacked in barrels and the barrels buried, or the fish were put into birch bark lined holes in the ground and covered with more birch bark and stones. The buried fish could be eaten without further preparation after four to six days, or were left to slowly decompose in the cold Scandinavian soil (around 7 ºC in summer) for several months, as a form of preservation. Modern gravlaks, now cured and prepared without being buried, is a derivation of this traditional process. Surlaks is another, less common, name for the same preparation, “sur” meaning sour, and describing the taste of the fish rather than the process of preparing The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “ham,” by L[aura] M[ason].
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “drying.” The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “ham,” by L[aura] M[ason].
Anton Mosimann, Mosimann’s World (London: Boxtree Limited, 1996), 229.
Riddervold, 127 and 129.
it. Surströmming is the Swedish name for pickled herring that have been lightly salted then stacked in barrels and allowed to undergo lactic fermentation as they begin to decompose. Other fish are still prepared today by burying. Many Norwegians have a taste for rakørret or rakefisk, fermented trout (or other freshwater fish) prepared by salting and storing underground in barrels until they are soft and strong smelling. The tradition also survives in Iceland, where the Greenland shark is preserved and rendered edible by being buried in sand for six to twelve weeks, then dried in the shade for a further eight weeks (hákarl). Fernández-Armesto points out that “Burial as quasi-cookery is also recalled in the dark tint now chemically applied to kinds of cheese which were traditionally preserved in earth.” The maturation of surface-ripened cheeses is another form of controlled putrefaction, as the bacteria that attack the outside of these cheeses and allow them to ripen are effectively ‘decomposing’ them. Cheese containing maggots, such as the ‘casu marzu’ of Sardinia, take this putrefaction a step further.
“To pickle” is defined in The Oxford Companion to Food as: “to preserve foods, especially vegetables, fruits, meat, and fish, in a preserving medium with a strong salt or acid content”. Larousse describes ‘a pickle’ as “A condiment consisting of vegetables or fruit … preserved in spiced vinegar.” While many pickled foods are boiled to aid in their preservation, some, mainly those including salt, are not. Stephanie Alexander gives several pickling recipes in The Cook’s Companion which do not require the application of heat; for example, whole cornichons are salted, rinsed and then packed in sterilised jars with white wine vinegar, water and spices; and sliced and salted ginger, is stored in a combination of rice vinegar, water and sugar. Christine Manfield, in Spice, gives a green mango pickle recipe using coconut vinegar, lime juice, palm sugar and fish sauce, turning green mangoes into a delicious accompaniment without the application of heat.
Joachim Römer and Michael Ditter, chief eds., Culinaria: European Specialties Volume 1 (Cologne: Könemann, 1995), 122.
Riddervold, 129 and 131.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “cheese.” Piero Sardo, Gigi Piumatti, and Roberto Rubino, eds., Italian Cheese: a Guide to their Discovery and Appreciation (Bra: Slow Food Arcigola Editore, 2000), 222.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “pickle,” by R[alph] H[ancock].
Larousse Gastronomique, 1988 ed., s.v. “pickle.” Stephanie Alexander, The Cook’s Companion (Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, Viking, 1996), 254 and 330.
Christine Manfield, Spice (Ringwood: Penguin Books Australia, Viking, 1999), 53.
Fermentation generally refers to the positive action of micro-organisms on food; what would be called ‘spoilage’ if the action resulted in a negative effect. Flandrin includes the preparation of foods by fermentation “under the rubric ‘cooking’.” Fernández-Armesto refers to it as “magical, because it can turn a boring, staple grain into a potion that can change behaviour, suppress inhibitions, conjure visions and unlock imaginary realms.” Fermenting as a food preparation technique is related to salting and pickling as some pickled foods are only lightly salted, destroying harmful bacteria which would render them inedible, but allowing the more salt-resistant lactic acid-producing bacteria to ferment them (for example sauerkraut, and kimch’i). While sauerkraut is boiled before being eaten, kimch’i is eaten at almost every Korean meal without any further preparation. Fermentation is also partly responsible for the distinctive flavour of pepperoni, and other dry-cured salami, which undergo bacterial fermentation while
used throughout the world in many different preparations, from Indian raita, to cool the effects of a fiery curry, to Greek tzatziki for a mezze plate.
Curdling, or coagulation, is the first step in virtually all cheese making. It can also be the only step, if the cheese is of an unfermented, soft curd type such as fromage frais, cottage cheese or quark. A simple fresh curd cheese can easily be made by combining warm milk (no warmer than body temperature is necessary) with rennet (in the form of junket tablets) and natural yoghurt. Once this mixture is allowed to stand overnight, it can be drained and used without any further preparation. Mixed with some fresh herbs it can be served on crackers as a canapé or with crudités, or with fresh fruit as a dessert.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “fermentation.” Flandrin, “The Humanization of Eating Behaviors,” 18.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “salting.” United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, ed., “Curing Process: Flavour” in Curing of Meat and Poultry Products [on-line]; accessed 26 January 2003; available from http://www.fsis.usda.gov/ofo/hrds/STATE/RETAIL/curing.htm.
The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “sausages of Italy.” The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999 ed., s.v. “yoghurt.” Will Studd, Chalk and Cheese (South Melbourne: Purple Egg, 1999), 49, 69 and 71.