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The art of chaotic cooking: no recipe, no measurements, just vibes

I am someone who boils pasta in water that is “as salty as the Mediterranean”. I do not use a spoon to measure out this salt, I use my imagination by recollecting that one summer I spent jumping off rocks and into the sea on the Amalfi Coast. The phrase is a common one for Italian cooks and I find it wonderfully poetic for it is wit, culture, food, and life in one. I grew up with my Grandma’s cooking which will always be the epitome of gastronomy for me. She takes out cumin seeds from a big jar, tosses a few into the pan, with sheer confidence and without a spoon in sight. I was always fascinated by how she did so. However, now, I am exactly the same. I have only been cooking for myself for four months now and I never follow a recipe or use measurements.   

I cannot say I am not envious of people who have the due diligence to follow a recipe to the T. Yes, beach boys, it would be nice! Nice to know that you can rely on your efforts and expect a good result. But you see, the very idea of that sort of predictability throws me off. Following a recipe doesn’t actually put my mind at ease, it ironically adds more pressure for me to achieve the perfect result that looks like the magazine shot on the BBC Good Food blog. My next problem is that I despise the authority of a measure. The imposing nature of ‘1/4th of a teaspoon of salt’, I find illiberal and totalitarian. I am aware that I could just add more salt if I wanted to, but if I proceed to do so I feel I am being frowned upon by the gastronomy Gods for going rogue. 

Given these views, my skills in the kitchen are pure pandemonium. There are no rules. I adore the Jamie Oliver style of “whack a bit of this in, a bit of that….stir,stir,stir” and et voila you have curry if you are lucky or some kind of split lentil soup if not. But I like the thrill of the lingering ‘what if ?’. And when I taste and find something missing, I enjoy playing the guessing game with myself rather than looking it up. For when I figure out what it is that my dish is missing, I feel this great sense of accomplishment and pride myself on being self-reliant as I proceed to add a splash of white wine vinegar for some missing ‘zing’. 

But there are also disastrous outcomes while following this ‘kid in a candy store’ approach. There’s been stained counters, overstuffed dumplings that fall apart so easily, burnt pot bottoms, portion sizing problems and grainy melted chocolate to name a few. However, some of these disasters do make for good dinner party stories. I am a huge Audrey Hepburn fan and I have successfully managed to recreate the scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s where she lunges at George Peppard as the pressure cooker filled with rice explodes, except I almost dislocated my flatmate’s shoulder. Lucky for me, she knew when she married me that I am more Coco Chanel than Coq au vin. 

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My palm is now immune to burns, this being a result of me constantly having to taste (to tell) steaming dishes while they’re still cooking as I don’t follow measurements. I feel I have this immortal power as I eat a steaming piece of pasta to make sure it is al dente. I feel like an empowered witch as I mix in spices of my heart’s desire into my various brews- soups, curries, stir-fries, and sauces.

As much fun I have with cooking. I believe in the best of both worlds. Nigella said as she made her Middle Eastern cake, “the thing about rose water is: one drop is a hint of exotic promise. Too much, and it’s your great aunt’s bubble bath.” I think the times that I have succeeded using my ways, is when I ensure I do not get too carried away, learn from the past, trust instincts and second opinions and follow the right techniques at the very least and taste, taste, taste as you go. My art guru is Bob Ross who says that “there are no mistakes in painting, just happy little accidents” and this logic, I apply to cooking as well. I try to take it easy but also not go against the basic sciences of cooking. I believe that chaotic cooking does wonders for the soul in terms of resilience and growing with experience, but a sense of order will not make your soup cold either.

Image: via Pixabay