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…a two note chord…

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I have no idea why all of the musical analogies lately. Maybe it’s something subconscious, but here it comes again…

Something has even gotten me picking up the dusty Stratocaster knock-off that’s sat in the corner of my studio for years, neglected. It’s tuned now, to an open ‘G’, I have a slide I like, and I’m teaching myself how to finger pick it. There’s something lovely about sitting alone and strumming a guitar, and finding that even a non musical person such as myself can make it ‘speak’ a little bit. That’s the magic of an open tuning, of course. Chords are everywhere, and all one has to do is lay a clumsy finger along a fret board and strum and pick…

I’m obsessed with music lately and it seems to pop up everywhere when I talk about things. I often find myself communicating using some form of analogy, but music isn’t the way I see the world, so it’s odd to me that I’m referring to it so much… I’ve heard of a phenomena called synesthesia, where people ‘smell’ or ‘see’ music, or they ‘taste’ some sight, where senses get crossed up and things are vividly impressed in ways that they shouldn’t be. I think I have a form of this. For the longest time, I’ve always seen things in forms and color. People I meet are, oddly, colors – not skin colors, but their moods and demeanor. I’m a copper-ish brown, and I always have been. Purple, especially violet people, scare me. I don’t trust them, and they make me feel instantly defensive. Don’t ask me who in my life is violet, I won’t tell… Others are shades of green – mostly a vivid lime-chartreuse hue – and they confuse me. I never know what to do with them, but I enjoy them for the most part. Olive and sage green, I like and trust – they’re earthy and though a bit foreign, I gravitate to them. Blue people are… blue. Not mopey. Mostly just apathetic; fence sitters, who never do anything outlandish or bring anything new to the conversation. Then there are the golds, oranges and browns. I love these colors because they are where I live. They are the ones who glow and radiate something I can’t explain, but I can see…

Maybe the music is something I’m trying to use to expand my horizons a little bit – to see if it has a color, if I can make it have a color in my own mind and have it make sense. I’m spiraling around on a meaningless and swirling tangent, of course, and not getting to the point of this at all…

I’ve written a while ago about sugar, most recently about vinegar and acids, and in many of the betweens, referring to my glorious cookbook project, musing at the insights into my soul, the way I think, the way I would teach someone how to cook. Finally, I think, maybe this helps make it all make sense…

The reason one should understand basic elements first, is that eventually you marry them together into something that only they can become. If each element is as a single note on a piano, combining them is making a chord. You want them to resonate and feel as if they belong together. This isn’t a set recipe, or even a proportion at all; rather it’s an idea – a simple notion of using two items together as a fundamental element in your cooking. In this case, it’s sweet and acid, and it’s know as a Gastrique.

While not the prettiest or appetizing of names, it’s the notion of tempering sweetness with sourness that appeals. And since you know, now, that sugars, sweetness, are largely interchangeable, as are acids, knowing this idea allows your mind to run wild with things on hand.

In it’s simplest form, it’s a mixture of simple table sugar in a vinegar. It’s one of the things I’m always looking for in a recipe; whether there is some sweet married to an acid. It shows up everywhere; barbecue sauces, almost universally have some sweet and some acid as the base. The glaze for a ham (brown sugar, minced garlic, dijon mustard). Even vinaigrettes, or marinades, sweet and sour sauces are essentially all based on this one idea…

Usually, a gastrique goes best with offsetting something earthy and fatty and unctuous. The sweet/tart combination is very effective at cleansing the palate of too much fat and brightens flavors that might be too heavy on their own.

In this iteration, my strawberry gastrique, it came from a few different angles. One is that I had strawberries laying around, and a shallot. I made this to go with some simple, pan seared duck confit, which is lovely as is, with crispy browned skin and tender meat, but approaches the realm of magnificent and surreal when paired with a gastrique of any sort.

Because most of the store bought varieties of strawberries aren’t as sweet as the ones you might pick fresh out of the garden, I supplemented it with some brown sugar. The shallot, was simply to make it more savory, so it didn’t taste as if I’d just stirred some jam into vinegar and called it good. It adds a complexity to it that I think makes it interesting… I macerated the sliced strawberry and shallot in the brown sugar for a bit – letting the sugar draw out the juices from each so it was swimming in a liquid that mingled better with the vinegar. Then I sautéed them in a little bit of duck fat to let them soften and brown. Finally, the vinegar goes in, and is allowed to reduce by about half, caramelizing the sugar, making it more intense and syrupy…

It’s something I still make from time to time, but it’s also something I feel free to modify and experiment with. No recipe is sacred. Maybe next time it’ll be nectarines, or peaches, or supremes of orange instead. Maybe it’ll have garlic, or some herb tossed in if there’s something I’ve got on hand… Because the specifics never matter as much as the idea. And once you know the idea, it’s funner to play around with the variables as much and as often as possible and see just how much you might surprise yourself…

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