We have learnt to cook and now we're having fun winging itby Wendell Steavenson / May 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
I bought a turbot. He was mottled grey, large and handsome, and so expensive that my knees buckled—wallet quavering—at the cash register. For dinner he was very fine, roasted with lemon and dressed with a cockle buerre blanc. He fed four of us fat and happy, with nothing more than boiled potatoes and peas and lettuce on the side.
When the guests had gone I took up a half-finished glass of wine, put on Radio 4 and went into the kitchen to clean up. I always like this time of the evening, when I am still warm and buzzy from company and conversation. The pots stuck with clumps and lumps. This is the fun part for me, the cook’s perk: the feast of leftovers. The marvellous and uncharted possibilities of imagination and invention.
What curious new deliciousnesses can I concoct from already-cooked potatoes or meat bones or a wodge of clammy rice? To the sonorous sound of late night radio, I carefully set about separating all the turbot flesh from the bones with my fingertips. It was a messy and satisfying job. Bones and skin and head and fins went into a pot with all the pan scrapings of crusted burnt lemon and wilted parsley stalks and a spoonful of cockles clinging together with claggy butter. Tomorrow this would be simmered into fish stock.
And then? Risotto? Fish soup with rouille? Bouillabaisse stew? A miso broth for clams and soba noodles? Thai prawn curry?
I have been wondering recently why I have stopped reading glossy cookbooks. Maybe it’s that the cooking lifestyle inspired by all those bestselling Nigels and Nigellas has outgrown its own progenitors. We have learned how to cook and now we’re having fun winging it. We are tired of recipes. You can’t write a recipe for the way many of us cook on a daily basis: mixing and matching what’s in our fridges with what we found at the market. Mash up of old-familiar and experiment, fusion cuisine of leftovers and new comers, the fresh and the cooked-last-week.
I cook what I see around me. I didn’t go to the fishmonger wanting a turbot—in fact I didn’t go to the fishmonger at all; the turbot winked at me from his icy slab as I was walking…