The devil, or so the expression goes, is in the details.
And that’s why the older I get, the less inclined I am to eat at restaurants. I want to know the details about what I’m eating – where the ingredients came from, what temperature the oven was set to, how the flavour combinations work.
The easiest way to achieve this is by cooking at home. I rarely find it tiresome – I’m more than happy to spend time fussing over something on the stove, or experimenting with a cake until it turns out just right. I want to be involved in as much of the cooking process as possible – it makes eating the final dish infinitely more rewarding. For me, it’s not just about pleasing my palate or ingesting nourishment – I want to seek out interesting ingredients and feel them in my hands, I want to observe the transformation from raw to cooked, I want to taste, season, and taste again.
For that reason, amongst others, I adore A Platter of Figs by David Tanis. It seems to be written specifically for folks who cherish the opportunity to spend time in their kitchens, cooking for and with friends and loved ones.
It’s not a book for everyone – all the dishes are scaled to feed eight to ten – and it’s laid out in menu form, so you can’t just turn to “poultry” and see all the recipes collected in the one chapter. But I find it gloriously engaging – the recipes, the anecdotes, the writing style and the photos – I love everything about it.
Last night I defrosted our remaining Costco lobster and used it to make a bastardized version of David’s risotto…
I didn’t have the four or five raw lobsters the recipe asked for, but that didn’t seem to matter. I cracked open the one I did have, picked all the meat, then put the shells on to boil. Further rummaging in the freezer produced a tub of fish stock, which was added to the pot.
The onions were sweated in butter, then Carnoroli rice, garlic, saffron, bay, olive oil and salt were added, followed incrementally by the stock. Once the rice was al dente, it was topped with lemon zest and the picked meat, and finished with parsley. The finishing touch – a dollop of homemade mayo – proved to be the perfect accompaniment. It was sublime and so rich in flavour that Big Boy and I could only manage a bowl each (Pete and Small Man aren’t fans of crustaceans).
This dish was a delight – every grain was loaded with flavour – but I doubt I’d have enjoyed it nearly as much if I’d had it in a restaurant. Then I wouldn’t have known how excited Lorraine and I were to discover the lobsters in the freezer at Costco, or that the rice used was Carnaroli rather than Arborio, or that the parsley and lemon were picked from our garden that afternoon. I wouldn’t have watched the grains of rice transform from hard white to translucent brown, or snacked on the roe from the lobster, or noticed the pungent aroma of the single crushed bay leaf before it was added to the pot.
The great joy of the dish, it turns out, was in the details.