There is a point to this ramble. It’s abut the disasters than can befall cooks who don’t always know what flavours best enhance each other. And the dangers of substitutions in recipes.
But it’s also about what ingredients do work well together, thanks to Glynn Christian’s book How to Cook Without Recipes.
My style of cooking tends towards the organic and impulsive. I forage through the fridge, see what’s available and cook accordingly. I sometimes use recipes, but can seldom resist fiddling with them. I add a bit of this and that, sometimes substituting one ingredient with another.
I always think I know better than Nigella, Jamie or Yotam Ottolenghi. Wrong!
The results vary. Sometimes I produce a spectaclar meal. Other times, well … here’s a cautionary culinary tale – and some solutions.
Not long ago I invited a friend to dinner. She is a serious foodie so I thought best not to experiment.
So I chose a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi from his lovely book Jerusalem. It was roasted chicken with vegetables, clementines and Arak. I had all the ingredients but Arak, a distilled alcoholic drink from the Middle East, which is flavoured with aniseed. Suggested substitutes I discovered were Pernod or ouzo.
When a quick search of my liquor cupboard revealed none of the above, I rushed off to the local liquor store. They didn’t stock any of the three, nor did the second outlet I visited.
Running out of time, I returned to my liquor cupboard and for reasons I can no longer recall – selective amnesia perhaps – I decide to substitute with blue curacao, which I flung liberally over the chicken, the veggies and the clementine slices.
The curacao turned the chicken, the onions and the vegetables a spectacular blue. Even the clementine slices were blue.
I was only momentarily fazed. I was sure the colour would diminish during the cooking process. It didn’t. It only intensified the blue.
With no alternative I had to serve the dish.
The flavours were, um, interesting. Harder to stomach was the colour of the food. My guest struggled with it bravely before declaring a long forgotten allergy to curacao.
Neither of us ate much.
I put the leftovers in the fridge determined to eat them the next day. I tried. I did. But the chicken seemed an even brighter blue, if that was possible. I finally binned the meal. Blue chicken is not a good look.
So what to do you do if you tend towards the experimentation? How do you know what really works? Some know instinctively. Jamie, Nigella and Yotam I suppose. The rest of us, well, we sometimes end up with blue food.
Then, out of the blue (forgive the pun) someone handed me a book titled How to Cook Without Recipes. it was published back in 2008 by Portico so I doubt it’s available anywhere. But it’s a bible of wonderful information, including a whole chapter devoted to flavour trails; ingredients that have a natural affinity. So, in the interests of preserving your culinary honour and preventing shame, I share some of his suggestions with you
Almonds with sugar, sweet spices, cream, butter, rose-water or orange-flower water, praline, rum, cognac, beans, broccoli, potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, oranges, plums, pears, apricots and dried fruits .
Apple, with ceddar, blue cheese, pears, quince, all citrus fruits, cream, butter, most herbs and spices, rose and orange-flower water, pork, duck, goose, bacon, onion, potato, pumpkin, sweet potato, root vegetables, red cabbage.
Bacon with eggs, maple syrup (if you’re American that is), fresh green and red cabbage, pickled cabbage, onion, garlic, potato, all beans and pulses, green beans, capsicums, apples, pears, peaches, dried apples and pears, pineapple, chicken, turkey, game birds, juniper berries, cumin and coriander.
Basil with tomato, pumpkin and squash, fish, shellfish, pork, lamb, orange, lime leaf, lemon grass, garlic, pasta, pine nuts, almonds, Parmesan, vodka.
Black pepper with dill, strawberries, butter, hot, lightly carmelised pineapple, vodka, mixed spice (for baking).
Blue cheese with red or white sweet wines, apples, pears, butter, cream, celery, walnuts and almonds
Brie with fresh pears, butter, oatmeal
Cabbage with bacon, black pepper, pickling spices, butter, garlic, caraway, juniper berries, cumin, coriander, mustard, salt beef, potato, onion, apples, dried apples and dried pears.
Cardamom with Danish pastry, sugar, coffee, chocolate, butter, raisins, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, saffron, rose water.
Carrot with dill, parsely, coriander leaf and seed, chervil, ground coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, butter, cream, garlic, orange, lemon, apple, pineapple, raisins, currants.
Chicken with tarragon and… everything just not curracao, clearly.
Chocolate with coffee (mocha) orange, lemongrass, raspberry, rose water, mint, vanilla, violet, thyme, rosemary, lime, black pepper, cream, milk, cinnamon, allspice, nuts (especially toasted), fish and many more including chilli.
Coffee with cinnamon, walnuts, orange, allspice, cardamom, rum, vanilla, butter, cream, chocolate, chilli compound.
Coriander leaf with everything where you would use parsely
Coriander seed with most vegetables – especially pumpkin – oranges, fruit salad, pork dishes, oily fish like salmon, bay leaves, most fruits, especially red plums.
Courgettes with chicken or tarragon (celestial when all three are served together), summer vegetables (especially tomato, aubergine capsicums, garlic and onion), cheeses (especially cream, Gruyere and Parmesan)
Duck with orange, pear, apple, cherries, mango, pineapple, lychees, caramel, peas, poached cucumber, cumin seeds, black pepper, cinnamon, bacon, rhubarb, mint, dried apples and pears, pickled cherries.
Fish, flat with butter, citrus, grapes, poached cucumber, dill and parsely
Fish, oily, with cider vinegar, onion, pickling spices, bay, garlic, horseradish, beetroot, parsley
Fish, round, with butter, parsely, tomato, olives, olive oil, garlic,
Gin with tonic and cucumber, fresh pineapple
Green beans with nutmeg or summer savoury, dill, toasted hazelnuts or almonds, butter, bacon, peas, broad beans.
Lamb with mint (not mint sauce which is for mutton) thyme, garlic, fresh and not dried rosemary, lime leaves, redcurrants, quince, honey, dried apricot and mint, sweet spices, saffron, dried apricot or armandine oranges.
Mint with apricot (especially dried) strawberry, raspberries, rhubarb , orange, lamb, duck, cold salmon, mackerel, salad ingredients (especially tomatoes), tomato sauces, sweet spices, chocolate, black tea, green tea, lemon grass.
Mutton with mint sauce, garlic, curry spice mixtures, sweet spices and dried fruits, laver bread
Pecans with butter, caramel, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, sweet potato, pumpkins and squashes
Pineapple with gin, orange, lime, mango, passion fruit, rum, brown sugars, butter, black pepper, (with pineapple cooked and caramelised in butter), mint, coconut, fresh ginger, chocolate.
Pine nuts with currants, rice, sweet spices, butter, quince, apples, dried apricots, caramel, lamb, fish, almonds, rose and orange flower waters .
Pork with bay leaf, brown sugars, ground coriander, five-spice, cloves, pineapples, apples, dried pears, stone fruits, including prunes, oranges, raisins, currants and rum
Prawns with butter, olive oil, garlic, dill, mint, tomato, basil, orange, saffron, cumin (especially roasted seeds).
Quince with apples, pears, almonds, bacon, lamb, pork, chicken, duck, goose, game birds, vine fruits, cinnamon, bay leaves, cardamom, butter, olive oil, saffron, vanilla
Raspberries with rose water, chocolate, strawberries, cream, orange juice, orange flower water, orange spirits and liquers, butter (shortbread), mint, rhubarb.
Rhubarb with orange, lemon, brown sugars, cinnamon, cardamom, allpsice, mint, strawberries, raspberries.
Root vegetables with other root vegetables, butter, cream, sherry (especially with swedes)
Rum with vanilla, butter, sweet spices, (especially nutmeg), chocolate, coconut, pineapple, mango, raspberries, coffee
Saffron with rice, potato, fish, seafood, soups, pears, apples, quince, chicken, butter, cream, milk, vanilla, rose and orange flower water, ground almonds, honey, sugar, lamb,
Salmon with butter, vanilla, poached cucumber, dill, tarragon, celery, green tea, lemongrass, lime leaf, citrus juices, bacon, pancetta, chorizo
Smoked fish with horseradish, cream, mustards, citrus juice, beetroot, green or smoked bacon, vinegars, sauerkraut, soured cream
Strawberries with orange juice, mint, raspberries, orange flower water, black pepper, green peppercorns, nuts (especially toasted), cream
Tarragon with courgettes, especially with cream and/or chicken, fish, black pepper
Tomato with walnut, hazelnuts, orange, bazil, garlic, olive oil, sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, bay leaf, oregano, mint, thyme or almost anything
Vanilla with cream, rum, butter, milk, black tea, coffee, chocolate, caramel, sweet spices, fish and seafood, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dried fruits (especially apricots, prunes and plums) rose and orange flower water, berry fuits and carrots.
Walnuts with honey, cinnamon, tomatoes, dark sugars, caramel, almonds, butter, sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkins and squashes, butter – and as a substitute for pecans. – Ingrid Shevlin, September 2015