cooking vs. brazing [rant]

besides working with metal and wood to make stuff, my passion is cooking.
i learned to cook the only way i can imagine: from watching and cooking with my mom. then i started to experiment on my own when i got my first real apartment a couple years ago. and i worked as a waiter before that, which taught me about how to combine ingredients like a good restaurant does.
a mistake a lot of people make when cooking is that they're scared of undercooking meat, especially chicken. i make chicken so it's undercooked when i take it out of the pan. there's two factors in play: the chicken continues to cook after the heat is turned off (not a lot, but enough that it's noticeable) and chicken tastes best when it's just barely cooked all the way--a little overcooked and it can get tough. so a little pink in the pan is a good thing. it takes a few tries to see how much pink is just enough.
the best way to get a well-cooked thick slab of meat is to brown the outside with high heat (like on a grill) for a just a couple minutes, then turn the heat down to about a medium-low (like in an oven) to fully cook the insides while keeping it tender and juicy. this is how restaurants do it, the good ones at least. i used to always wonder why the cooks always ran between the grill and the oven until i figured this out.

in the same way that a brazed joint can be cut open to reveal how complete the braze was, food can always be tasted or cut open a little to determine both how completely it's cooked and how it tastes. i taste constantly while i'm cooking, and i've learned to associate specific tastes with the way the food looks and cooks. this verifiability is important to me; it makes both processes less daunting.
learning to cook is mostly developing a sense of what's going on inside the food, by extensive trial and error. i sense that the same thing is going on while i practice brazing. i'm at a gross disadvantage because i have nobody to watch and take mental notes from; i would have taken many more years learning to cook without having my mom to emulate. i still call her up for advice sometimes. she's cooked everything, and she gave me a Joy of Cooking so i can look things up on my own. the framebuilding equivalent is the Paterek Manual, although even that doesn't come close to the exhaustiveness of the JoC. here's a blog about a woman cooking every recipe in the JoC

my favorite thing to do is to bring one cuisine in and incorporate it into an unrelated cuisine. this weekend i tried blackened salmon sushi rolls, which was pretty successful. sorta like a cajun version of spicy tuna roll.
i'm very much influenced by other cooks. my grandparents' friend Jimmy Chu used to be a cook at a nice restaurant in Taiwan. he went with me to buy my wok. he showed me how to slice meat thinly, marinade in special soy sauce with sugar and black pepper, then throw it in the wok with garlic, ginger, and spring onion, all sliced super thin. cook on high for about 3 minutes, then throw in some chopped vegetables, and serve over rice. i've been riffing on this structure for a couple years now. i've tried every kind of meat i can get, changed the marinade, used other vegetables, etc.
i still come back to the original quite often. it's an artful way to cook and eat--simple, healthy, pretty cheap, delicious, with plenty of room for variation. and the wok is an incredible tool to use. it requires great care in storage and use, because it's very thin non-stainless steel. a properly heated wok comes to cooking temperature in about 15 seconds. removing it from the heat for 10 seconds to flip things around causes the heat inside to drop significantly--the polar opposite of another of my favorite pans, the cast iron skillet.

anyways, this kind of riffing and influencing is what i find myself doing when i work in the shop as well. a big part is learning the technical side of things, how to use each tool well, learning to cook. but there's always the question of _what_ to make, and for that i always try to pick up ideas from where i work and live, from what surrounds me, or from what i wish surrounded me.

i discovered about a year ago what an amazing culture Ethiopians share. we have a lot of Ethiopians and Ethiopian restaurants here in the Shaw neighborhood in DC. i've asked friends for recipes, figured out the staples of Ethiopian cuisine. it actually has several European influences, Italian and Portugese among them. i've found the markets near me that cater to local Ethiopians. i come in and ask for berbere, the orange-red spice mix, and kibbeh, the flavored butter. i always get funny looks because i'm white but i know a few Ethiopian words, and because i'm usually dressed like a biker.

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