Variations on a Theme

by Ryan

Ever notice how different physical regions have slightly different recipes for the same dish?  In the USA the easiest way to separate people is into barbecue regions (note: this is also a worldwide trend).  Do you like a dry rub?  You’re probably from Tennessee.  Do you like sweet sauce?  You probably visited Kansas City one too many times.  If you like vinegar then you probably enjoy Carolina style sauce.  All that being said, there are quite a few different foods that have regional or cultural differences.  These dishes all share the same name, but can be quite different.

Sekaná, meatloaf from the Czech Republic

Sekaná, meatloaf from the Czech Republic

Another example most American’s can relate to is meatloaf (again, actually a worldwide trend, and lots of variations).  Does your family add ketchup to the top of the meatloaf before cooking?  Do you expect a brown gravy to accompany the meatloaf?  Do you use ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, or ground pork?  Do you ‘stretch’ the meat by adding cornmeal, cereal flakes, oatmeal, or breadcrumbs?  Do you add vegetables?  And the point is, lots of variations of this dish exist, and if you ask 10 people how to make meatloaf you’ll probably get 10 different answers.  There is no one true way to make it.

American meatloaf

American meatloaf

All of these variations on a theme really get complicated when searching the internet for recipes.  Ever tried to find a recipe for something simple like sugar cookies?  Great, you found 10,000 recipes that are all slightly different.  Which one will you try out?  How many will you have to try before you find one that is good?  That is the problem with so many variations on a theme.

So, to solve the problem, the easy solution is to read 4 or 5 recipes and then choose the one that seems to be the middle ground normal recipe.  Right?  Or do you just visit a well known cooks website and steal their recipe and assume they know what they are doing?  (On a side note, I’ve been tricked into making a few well known cook’s recipes, and needless to say, I have learned that not all TV personality chefs know how to cook.  After all, they are entertainers first and cooks second)

So what does all this mean?  Well, it means that being a cook is a about making choices, and learning how to include ingredients in a dish in such a way that they create a tasty synergy.  Ingredients aren’t set in stone.  If a cookie recipe calls for white cane sugar, you can certainly find a way to substitute half the sugar for light brown sugar.  Or confectioners sugar (hint: use less).  Or an artificial sweetener, or honey, or maybe even a sweet fruit (applesauce instead of the butter, and pear puree instead of part of the sugar, but be prepared to cut back on the milk/water a little)

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