The kitchen – a preliminary sketch

The poem below was written in Spanish many years ago and it was partly inspired by a reading of several works by Gertrude Stein, in particular her stories, Three Lives, and her long prose-poem dedicated to the home, Tender Buttons. Having been written in Spanish it benefited from the sounds and rhythms of that language, some of which have been lost in the English translation. 


The kitchen – a preliminary sketch

The kitchen is the household’s nest and home’s soul
it is the homely heart of hearts and so much so that
we must admit that without a kitchen there is no home
       just as without a heart there is no body
new paragraph

And it doesn’t matter whether it has a gas or electric
or even a wood stove the kitchen is always
the great engine the main driver that powers a home
it is the turbine the dynamo and the source and origin
       of all domestic and experiential energy

In the kitchen the plants and flowers and wood all feel at home
       cold cast iron and tender marble at home too
       at home cork and wickerwork
       surrounded by glass and ceramics
and everything just as natural as can be in the kitchen with only plastic
and polyurethane and anything at all synthetic feeling a little out of place
       surrounded by so much vegetable
       mineral
       and human nature

Here technology counts for little
in the role the kitchen plays in home life
because every technological device has a single purpose
to fulfil an ancient task in the newest
and most efficient manner nothing more
so that while not exactly redundant
technology is indeed par excellence expendable
and so much more so
than the cry of a cockerel or a lark
       at the crack of dawn

A kitchen has its own rhythm and its own music and in that
it resembles a poem a poem perhaps hanging on a kitchen wall
amid photos of grandparents and great grandparents as though a recipe
for the preparation of some stuffed eggplants
because in reality poems too are stuffed in so many different ways
with so many different sauces to give them a particular flavour and
likewise certain recipes too are followed to carry them off
so that poetry and cooking
       -in practice and in situ-
       are two quite similar things
although on the other hand
       totally different and no comparison

In a kitchen to come up behind someone who’s peeling potatoes
or rinsing vegetables under cold water running
over the sink can be a real treat because the person
with their hands full cannot defend themselves and one can
hug that person from behind or give them a peck on the neck
or do both simultaneously and there’s nothing
the poor person can do with busy wet hands
but let out a scream and laugh and try to turn around or dodge
but most of the time it’s in vain because from a kiss
which by the stars is bound to be bestowed
there’s no escape because it’s fate
and no one escapes their fate as we all too well know
although rarely do we know what exactly fate is
especially our own random luck
our destiny or that of those we most love
       because that’s life
       with a destiny but unpredictable
       as though there were no destiny
       at all

And notice that a kitchen occupied by one person barely counts
as a kitchen because the nature of the kitchen requires the minimal presence
of two so as to classify as a real kitchen
and the reason for this is that the kitchen is a place of sharing
and by definition solitude’s not something to be shared
so it fails to qualify as a kitchen but rather undermines it authority
or at least removes authenticity and I’d go as far as to say takes away the taste
from the food served in that room that I daren’t
even call a kitchen given that it’s occupied nothing more
than by one person alone and that’s not sharing
and by failing to comply with the rules of the kitchen
       is hopelessly disqualified

And a rhetorical question would be
where else can one find such an intimate and innocent
formal and informal promiscuity in a house than in the kitchen
and that is largely due to the fact that a main ingredient of a main kitchen
is miscegenation
or rather the confluence
of a huge variety of ingredients in a single dish
because to tell the truth when the culinary art
is practised seriously very rarely does the kitchen not assume something
of the atmosphere of the General Assembly of the United Nations
when a host of products from various flags around the world congregate
all of which are destined in accordance with the talent
of the person in charge of the cuisine to melt into
a unique combination into a single unified taste though there might
persist a plethora of minor or secondary flavours
       underlying the unicity of the dominant flavour
       and that’s why all prejudices have to remain
       out of the kitchen so as not to impede the peace process
which is cooking within the confines of that space
that is indeed a kind of sanctuary
for all human rights and values
of respect and democracy and friendship and affection
       and quite simply love

Moreover as if this weren’t enough the kitchen is a place
where many alien things are always mislaid
and where other equally alien things are always found
a phenomenon that is repeated so often
that it gives the impression that the kitchen is a magical space
with frankly surprising powers of attraction
and it’s impossible to hear the question
where’re the keys or the newspaper
without thinking with an almost pathological automatism
of the probability that the blessed newspaper quite certainly
is in the kitchen not far from the cup and glasses
and perhaps beneath the keys to the car
       or to the house itself

And that’s why friends prefer to be in the kitchen instead
of anywhere else even after the meal they’ve just
ingested because the host or hostess will constantly
have experienced the following and that is that after filling
their stomachs friends want to fill their soul with delicacies
no less nutritious than an oven roast or a fried fish
or a plate of rice with shrimp or chorizo
since it’s true that the human species
       cannot live on bread alone
       but on daily conversation and dialogue
       and the exchange of ideas and impressions
       and tastes and sometimes even mild or strong
       disagreements and opposing politics and it seems
that being surrounded by utensils and pots and heavy porcelain
lends to some if not to most people
an unparalleled sense of security so that rarely do they
accept the suggestion to file out into the living room
while the leftovers are put away and the dishes washed
and the stove is cleaned and the coffee has been filtered
because they fear that they’ll lose that frank and warm
human quality that is
       the necessary environment
       of a fine inexhaustible kitchen
       whether here
       or in Timbuktu
       and in saying all this
       I feel I’ve said so very little
       and that I’m really
       just getting going

John Lyons

© 1990, 2015


 

 

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Sous-vide duck confit

duck_confit
3 x 2 duck legs vacuum sealed ready to be immersed in the sous-vide water oven

Sous-vide cooking used to be the preserve of up-market restaurants. Why? Because the technology behind this method of cooking gives chefs complete control over the outcome of certain recipes. The principle is simple: foods are placed in a vacuum-sealed pouch and immersed in a water bath at a controlled temperature for a controlled period. All things being equal, the results from this method of cooking are identical which in scientific terms amounts to repeatability. Same ingredients, cooked for the same time at the same temperature, taste the same at the end of the process. Excellent for batch cooking. And because foods are cooked in vacuum sealed pouches, foods remain moist and none of the flavour is lost.

The initial cost of the equipment required may deter some people. You need a water oven (which can still be quite expensive) and a vacuum sealer (much less expensive). But making that investment will enable you to produce restaurant-quality dishes at home. Sous-vide cooking is especially effective when preparing tough cuts of meat, brisket, for example, which can remain in the water bath for up to three days and will emerge tender and succulent. Tough brisket, pork shoulder, pigs or ox cheeks all melt in the mouth after cooking sous-vide.

Say no more! You can search online for more details on the benefits of this type of cooking. Meanwhile here’s my own recipe for confit duck legs prepared in the sous-vide water bath:

Duck or goose confit is one of the most luxurious of foods in French cuisine. Gently cured duck legs bathed in their own fat and slowly cooked to falling-off-the-bone perfection. The preparation of this dish in the traditional way can be time-consuming. However, using a sous-vide water oven, nothing could be easier. The first stage of this recipe involves brining the duck legs in a dry cure of 50/50 salt and sugar.

Equipment

A temperature-controlled water bath

A food vacuum sealer

Method for two duck legs

  1. To brine the duck legs, apply a dry cure (15 g sea salt and 15 g sugar, ) to two duck legs.duck confit cooked
  2. Store the legs in a glass or strong plastic container in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours.
  3. Gently rinse the duck legs and pat dry.
  4. Vacuum seal the legs together with a tablespoon of duck fat, a few juniper berries, some freshly crushed black peppercorns, and whatever additional seasoning you want in a food-grade plastic pouch.
  5. Immerse the pouch in the water bath with the temperature set at 80 ˚C and leave for 8-10 hours.
  6. Remove from the water bath and drain the liquid into a bowl. [Reserve this liquid in the fridge. When cooled you can separate the fat from the stock. Use the stock in soups and store the fat for use when roasting vegetables or when preparing more duck confit.]

Hey good looking, what you got cooking. . . ?

How about cooking something up for me?

Hank Williams
Hank Williams

To the immortal words of Hank Williams’ unforgettable song, our old sea-dog Jonah decides he’s going to share one of his culinary secrets. How come these old timers in Central America, who don’t have two beans to rub together, live to the ripe old age of 90 or more? The answer is diet, and hard work. You all know the saying, “Hard work never killed anyone.” The fact is that hard work saves more lives than it kills, way more!

So what about diet? What do the peasants in Nicaragua and Costa Rica have for breakfast, lunch and dinner? The answer is gallo pinto: a basic mixture of rice and black beans fried together with a little garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Eat it with maize tortillas, an egg (fried or omelette), or maybe a little meat (not too much) or on its own with plenty of chile sauce and you’re away. Live forever!

So how’s it done?

You need to cook your rice and your beans separately and remember that for gallo pinto they will be mixed 50/50 so I won’t give precise weights. Once the beans are cooked you drain off the liquid and let the beans dry.

Then in a large frying pan you fry a little minced garlic with a little finely chopped onion in a generous dose of good oil (sunflower or extra virgin), adding a little salt and pepper to taste. Once the onions are soft you slowly add the beans on a moderate heat. After a minute or two, you add a similar portion of rice and with the heat still low you stir the contents of the pan, noting how the beans and the rice are getting drier all the time. As the moisture begins to evaporate, the rice will take on a reddish hue having absorbed some of the colour from the beans. What this translates into is flavour. You now need to reduce the heat as low as possible so that the mixture continues to dry out, taking care, however not to burn it. Believe me, the mixture of rice and beans in gallo pinto is a marriage made in heaven!

Gallo pinto is often served with sliced fried plantain (either sweet, when skin is yellow, or savoury, when skin is green). Eggs, meat, tortillas are all optional extras. The beauty of this dish, apart from its simplicity and divine taste, is that it delivers in a very simple format, all the protein and carbohydrate you’re going to need if you intend to do a hard day’s work. And there’s an added bonus. By taking your main protein shot from pulses rather than from meat, you’re actually helping to save the planet. So go for it!


gallo pinto
gallo pinto Jonah made for lunch today

Ingredients
Black beans
Cooked rice
Clove or two of minced garlic
Half onion finely chopped
Cooking oil
Salt
Pepper

Final point. Keep the leftover gallo pinto in an airtight container in the fridge. When next required gently warm through. You’ll find that with every warm-up, the mixture will get drier, the rice and beans will eventually become crunchy and you will cross the taste barrier into ecstasy. By the way gallo pinto means spotted rooster in Spanish.