We’re always taught at Ballymaloe that it’s the little things that make the difference.
There’s often a shortcut you could take but it’s rarely worth doing so, especially from a flavour perspective. After all, it’s the little things will take you (and your food!) from good to great.
- Need ground spices? We toast and grind the seeds for maximum flavour.
- Need fish? We start with the whole fish and filet it ourself to ensure freshness and quality.
- Prepping vegetables? All veg from the garden are scrubbed or washed to remove their lovely soil. Then veg waste goes into either the stock pot or the hen bucket, to be used in another key recipe…. stock or compost.
Monday’s Madras curry was another classic example:
First we needed lamb. So, I got the whole leg (funnily enough they were the exact legs I’d butchered in my Wednesday butchery class), boned it and then cut it up into pieces. The trimmed fat then got rendered down in the oven.
The recipe also called for chopped, peeled almonds. So we took whole almonds, blanched them briefly to remove the skins and then cut up finely.
You can probably buy pre-prepared packets of chopped almonds (in fact I know you can, in a previous life I’ve bought them) and you can definitely buy your ground spices ready to go. But, the way we’re taught at Ballymaloe means you really have to stop and think about all those shortcuts we often automatically just do.
Packaging, cleaning, conveniently portioned sizes… these are all indicators of interference in your food. You’ll be paying more to have someone mess with whatever you’re about to eat. Sometimes this can be a good (if not totally necessary) thing but often the convenience factor comes with a price. Additives, lack of flavour, lack of freshness etc etc. Of course some of the ingredients we use are in packets and jars, but as much as possible everything is in as close to its raw, natural state as possible when we start cooking with it.
Another example of this was on Tuesday, where Rachel demonstrated another curry – this time making a Thai Green Curry paste. We talked about what was in the pre-made spice mixes – even the good brands. Well, a lot of good stuff… but also a lot of not great stuff. Preservatives. A LOT of salt.
She made a curry paste from scratch and the difference in look, smell and flavour was amazing. Don’t get me wrong there was a 15+ ingredients list and so the time involved in using each one was different too… but when you can make it easily in the food processor and the paste freezes really well…. making it yourself, if not all the time then at last some of the time, starts to feel like it could make sense. Even in the real world!
And back to that Madras curry. With all that fresh coriander, cumin, almonds…it was a thing of total deliciousness. Sure – packets have a place. In the busy world we live in, a very important place. But I’m learning it’s so important to question and challenge yourself about the packets you do use…. if you’re going to take shortcuts, be aware of them. Take the right ones. And every now again treat yourself to a freshly made curry paste. Totally worth it.