Since food has taken over my life in every aspect, I thought I would share 3 dishes/foods that I salivate, cherish, dream and would simply giggle with joy knowing that I was about to eat. This isn’t an entry about my favourite foods. This is beyond that. Think of it as a, what food I would want to eat if I knew I was going to die in a week, kind of thing.
This dish was created back in 1950’s in Delhi by 3 Punjabi Restaurateurs. I was very young when I was introduced to Butter Chicken. At my age it is harder and harder to remember the exact date and time when things happened. I just know that when I tasted my first mouthful of Butter Chicken, I fell in love with the soul of India. This was when I began my passionate love affair with a country that I knew I had to go and visit. If I ever saw it on a menu, I ordered it. Many chef’s and passionate cooks, (including myself) find chicken a bland and simple meat protein. It is very easy to cook chicken and even easier to cook it badly. India found a way to elevate chicken to rival any other meat protein and fill all your senses with pure joy. You take a bite of Butter Chicken and you are transported to India. You can see, smell and hear India in this dish. I found it so fascinating that every dish of Butter Chicken was different. That is what India is all about, every village and province and region is different. Butter Chicken is the restaurants proclamation of love for their country. I simply can’t live without it. How do I reject a dish with so much soul? I can’t, I won’t.
Bitoque is a traditional Portuguese dish, which consists of a lean fried or grilled beef steak or pork, that is usually accompanied by fries, rice, various salads and topped with an egg. This recipe has its origin in the North Eastern part, Beira Alta Portugal. Again, this is a dish that was introduced to me when I was young. This dish is very dear to my heart because it was my grandparents who introduced me to it. I used to go to Portugal every summer and stay with my maternal grandparents in their small farm in central Portugal by the ocean, a small hamlet called Paiao. From the capital Lisboa, where we landed, it would be roughly 1 and a half to 2 hour drive and at that time there was no main highway as there is today and my grandfather would drive on a road where at some point we would stop to eat at a roadside restaurant and sit down for lunch. Roadside restaurants in Portugal can compete against any fine dining restaurant here in Canada, but of course I’m biased, I think every restaurant in Canada sucks.
Sorry, that’s another topic for a different entry.
If I had my choice at the time, I would skip breakfast when I knew we were going on a road trip, but my grandmother’s oatmeal breakfast was to damn good to pass up. It’s true what they say, any dish made from scratch is simply splendour to your tongue. The great thing for me about Bitoque is the broth sauce with which each plate has. Like the previous dish I mentioned, the broth sauce can be different each time you order the dish. Many people will say, ignorantly I must add, that Portuguese cuisine is mostly peasant food. Maybe back in time it was more a food for sustenance thing than a cuisine, but now you can tell who loves to cook by the way they have elevated the dish. When the plate is placed in front of me, I immediately grab a fried chip and taste it. Is it salty enough, is the ratio of crispy and moist and tenderness there? This will let me know if I will enjoy the meal as a whole. If you can’t make a good homemade fried chip, why would you attempt making a simple steak. This brings me to the highlight of the dish. The cut of meat is so crucial. If the kitchen is properly run, the cut of meat will be a good balance of fat and meat. You will never get a great cut of meat for this dish; it doesn’t fit to have it here. If some day a chef decides to cook a gourmet version of it, then maybe. Now to the star of the show, the egg. The perfect fried egg is so important. If it’s overdone then you basically have a flat boiled egg flavoured egg. You should be able to break the yoke and the orange liquid yoke should ooze out and seep into the broth and then that’s when the magic happens. The moment when I have liquid yoke, fried chip and meat with broth together on your fork and that instant when your lips seal the flavours in your mouth, that’s when my mind and soul is in Portugal. I know I’m home.
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Believe it or not, this dish was not invented in Italy. The origin of spaghetti and meatballs started with Italian immigrants coming to America in 1880 to 1920. So, you can say it was invented by Italians, but not in Italy. I think I just found my next question to ask at a gathering and see how many people get it wrong. I was introduced to my first plate of spaghetti from my mother. It was mostly served on a night that my mother just didn’t want to bother with anything too fancy and would throw a batch of dried grocery store spaghetti into a pot and she would over cook it so it was so soft, that I always thought that’s how pasta was supposed to be cooked. Only when I started working in restaurants did I learn that pasta should always and I mean always, be served el dente. Now most people think that means under-cooked, but that is the wrong way to think. The meaning does imply to slightly under-cook the pasta but cooking it that way gives the pasta a texture that allows the pasta to not get mushy, also pasta that is cooked el dente has a lower glycemic index than pasta that is cooked soft. This reduces your carbohydrate intake which results in less weight gain.
When I was younger, I would just buy a store ready jar of sauce and heat it up and put frozen precooked meatballs into it and pour the sauce over the pasta. I would sometimes add grated parmesan cheese depending on how I felt before I ate the dish. Fast forward many years ahead and now I can only eat homemade sauce. I cannot stand the acid level of store-bought sauces. After eating thousands of pasta dishes, I absolutely love my creamy garlic tomato sauce. What most people forget is that the sauce is only supposed to lightly cover the pasta, not drown in it. An excellently made sauce will warm your soul. I have recently started experimenting making meatballs. I used my dear friends, Amy and Brad and their children as my guinea pigs. I was nervous because I didn’t get the chance to taste the meat. It was a success because they lived through it. The meatball, yes singular, should be no bigger than a baseball, you should not have more then 2. If I get ping pong sized meatballs, I think I was served the child’s menu. It’s all about the seasoning with the meat. Ground meat of any kind is bland and can dry up quickly when cooked. The great thing about ground meat is that it will soak up the sauce just as quickly. The combination of pasta, sauce and meatball is an invention of genius. It simply feeds the soul.