What is the purpose of cooking? To feed? To nourish in a healthful manner? To create Dionysian orgiastic pleasure in each and every bite? I vote for C, though arguably all of the above apply.
Sam Sifton of the New York Times shared a recipe a few months back that has become the template for a lot of my stovetop-based recipes. (I live in a 4th floor Brooklyn walkup, so the art of grilling has been relegated to setting off smoke alarms and opening all my windows.) The basic tenet of the technique is to pan sear the protein, add gobs of butter and various aromatics, and baste. It works on steak, chicken, or a plump bone-in pork chop. It is especially tasty for salmon. The inspiration to add chickpeas came in a whisky-infused moment (I cook to Grants and jazz on WBGO-FM).
The fish was going nicely and since I am the ultimate kitchen multitasker, I pre-prepare nothing and was studying my paltry salad ingredients (a little wilted 3-day old lettuce. A scallion. A can of chick peas.) when inspiration struck. Screw the salad and just throw the beans into the bubbling butter.
The chick peas went into the liquid and I got to thinking, why not add a little Indian flavor? I snatched my industrial-sized, street fair purchased plastic container of cumin and gave it a healthy shake. Ditto the curry powder and a healthy pinch of smoked sea salt.
The chick peas instantly took on that pungent and powerful yellow hue, and I spooned them with the rest of the liquids over the fish again and again. The whole process from hot pan to done took under five minutes. What came out was a small, healthful, low-fat dish where every single bite exploded with the flavor of curry, jalapeno, smoky salt, garlic and rich salmon. Every bite healthy. Every last swallow a story in flavors, enhanced by the crunch of the lowly chick pea.
M.F.K. Fisher, the godmother of American food writing, is perhaps best known for her seminal work, “Consider the Oyster.” I make no pretense to her wellspring of culinary talent, but am respectfully borrowing her title for this series on “The Joy of Ingredients.”