The last time I followed a recipe was 3 years ago. My teaspoon is my recipe book. A reactive recipe book where ingredients and method vary greatly depending on how I feel. Depending on the day.
I might have a good idea as to what I want to achieve as I wok up my stir fry this evening, but I don’t want it to be limited to Nigel Slater’s Thai slant or Rick Stein’s Oriental perspective. Today it’s pork and noodles and I want it to meet the need of my taste buds. Today’s taste buds.
The meat is on the heat and I’m kicking it off with a little sesame oil. Once it’s sealed it’s time to add the first layer of flavour. Cumin, cinnamon, all spice and fresh ginger presiding over cayenne today. Like I said, I have today’s preferences in mind, and the order of the day is warmth and not heat. One minute and the veg goes into the wok. I’m now thinking about sauce and the second layer of flavour: honey and light soy (that’s my stock). But I need to check that I’m following today’s ‘recipe’; I need my teaspoon. Stir and taste. I’m looking for sweetness, richness and the limited warmth of ginger and cinnamon (I don’t really need to taste the cumin, it’s serving a greater purpose, subservient to and supporting of the ginger).
I’ve only been adding a little at a time so I know that I’ll be in the right flavour ball park, but the balance isn’t there yet. The salt from the soy is permeating too strongly, more honey necessary. Stir and taste again. Good, better, it’s balancing out.
The noodles need to be added now, I’m conscious of time, the veg doesn’t need long. I haven’t added any more flavour since the last taste test but I’ve given it time to blend and develop so I’ll taste again.
Today is all about encouraging the warmth of ginger and it’s not coming through, so I’ll add a little more (I chopped it finely to give it a fighting chance of finding its way through the dish in a minute or two). Taste. That’s Layer Two complete.
Now a splash of rice wine vinegar, just a dash, enough to deglaze and add slight edge of sharpness (not too much or I’ll overpower the dish with acid). Taste. Dark soy for colour. Taste. Honey to re-balance. Taste. Perfect.
A stir fry like this will take around 7 minutes, typically I’d use my ‘recipe book’, around ten times. Probably around the same number of times a BBC Good Food website would be consulted and checked. Ok so my teaspoon is reactionary, experimental and maybe even a slightly risky approach to creating a dish but it was all the direction I needed and it’s given me the flavour of the moment.
I’m not advocating tearing up your “I’m Jamie Oliver and this is how I cook a three course meal in two minutes”. I’m not saying that the “Hairy Bikers’ guide to cooking in Geordie” can’t inspire. What I am saying is that the smallest of spoons can help generate the most exciting of dishes and create the fullest of flavours.
Next time you sizzle a stir fry, cook a casserole or prep a pasta sauce, try closing the recipe book and arm yourself with the humble teaspoon.