Simplicity In The Kitchen With Fresh, Accessible Ingredients
One of my closest friends is a chef and hosted a menu tasting this week. Everything from grilled shrimp and risotto to filet mignon to salmon – and boy did I learn a lot. As aspiring chefs, we are often under the impression that to make food taste good, we have to load our dishes with salt, spices or marinades. I’m guilty of this, and have been trying for months to simplify my food while learning to cook properly. My friend Jordan has been cooking for years and sticks to basic, flavorful combinations that focus on the overall quality and masterful production of artistic, tasteful dishes.
Let’s start with his grilled shrimp creation. Whole shrimp, on skewers marinated in a simple mix of garlic, cilantro, lemon and lime juice. No store-bought marinades – just accessible, fresh ingredients that enhance the natural flavor of the shrimp, not mask it. He grilled the shrimp for a few minutes, and placed it on a bed of risotto. Let’s talk about his risotto. We all know Latins love their rice! But why not try something new and inventive, and trade the mundane yellow rice for a creamy, decadent risotto dish. As I picked up a forkful of this ‘ooey gooey’ goodness, I was overwhelmed with the fragrant extravagance that was so easily created with onion, a bag of rice and some other uncomplicated, accessible ingredients. Place the grilled shrimp on top of the risotto and you’ve got a meal, complete with your starch, protein and fresh herbs. Sweet.
For his next culinary creation, he used filet mignon. One of my all-time favorite meat selections – that so often we overcook or douse in heavy sauces to “make taste better”. His approach was amazing to me. A quick sprinkling of salt and pepper. That’s it. No thick, sweet sauces or overnight marinades. Just a quick sprinkling of salt and pepper, straight to the grill. Grilled for a few minutes on each side, then put in the oven to cook a little longer. Finally, he carefully sliced the meat then placed on a crostino with fresh blue cheese crumbles. He artfully melted the blue cheese and served with a balsamic glaze. My friend Chris and I (the humble
tasters) enjoyed the presentation as well as the quality of the meat, and the ability to really enjoy its natural flavor.
Finally, salmon with brussel sprouts. Now, let’s start by saying I’m not exactly a fan of salmon. Unless it’s cooked well, and paired with the right flavors, I will not eat it. (Picky, I know.) His take included salt and pepper, then fresh lemon juice squeezed over the fish. Finally, he placed it in a pan and cooked it for a few minutes on each side. While the fish cooked, he browned bacon and added brussel sprouts into the mix. The end result was unreal. The combination of the brussel sprouts with the bacon and the flaky perfection of the fish – absolutely mind-altering. I don’t think I’ll ever cook brussel sprouts the same way again.
Moral of the story? When preparing your meals, think simplicity. Meat, fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs. No crazy store-bought marinades and rubs are needed. No difficult recipes or questionable flavor combinations. Use what you have in the houes! Simple, fresh ingredients combined with proper preparation will always create meals that impress your loved ones while making your time in the kitchen enjoyable. I am thankful to my friend for this lesson, and for the ability to continue learning in the ever-changing culinary world.