(These are recaps of our “Hidden Apron at Home” Instagram Live sessions held on my @errant_diner account focusing on the fundamentals of cooking as I, a non-chef, understand them. They are based on my experiences learning how to cook and deal with systems and ways of thinking vs. just recipes. This first session dealt with “Confidence” and featured my friend Alexa Alfaro of Meat on Street, Milwaukee’s first and only Filipino food truck)
When people think of first starting to cook, seasoned cooks will point you to a few starting points: your mise en place, how to use a knife, maybe a few basic recipes. I argue however that a lot of “cooking” happens before you even touch a single ingredient or turn on the stove; it’s the mindset and way of approaching cooking that makes all the difference between cooking as a lifelong skill or something only done on special occasions limited to a few comfortable dishes with specific steps or worse, during a forced quarantine. I believe the first key ingredient/way of thinking we have to discuss is Confidence.
Confidence is what provides you the mental safety to mess up and experience the failures you need in order to progress. Burning rice is just as valuable as getting it right. The mental balancing between safety and challenge has been proven time and time again to be crucial to learning any skill and not just cooking. Any personal trainer for example would tell you to start in a plank before moving to push ups on your knees and not expect you to go straight to Bruce Lee’s two-finger pushup.
There are three main components to Culinary Confidence that are helpful in thinking about when assessing the overwhelming amount of recipes, videos, and posts out there. The challenge is not that we lack content but that we have too much and so I recommend using these as guidelines when deciding what to consume and cook next:
- PROGRESSIVE PLAY
Don’t go straight to two-finger pushups. Start with techniques and ingredients that have the highest margin of error (“How much can I mess up?”) since those produce the highest chance of success and thus, confidence (“How good does this taste?”). Note that I say “Play” and not just “Practice”. Start with things that make you say to yourself: “Wait…that’s all it took!?”. This is why we started with Alexa’s Adobo that involved braising fatty pork that could withstand rough cuts and long cooking times.
Imagine only knowing how to prepare your favorite pasta dish using your favorite skillet, specific brand of pasta, ultra-rare angel tears’ salt, and only when Mercury is not in retrograde. You will NOT have the confidence to whip up a quick pasta dish when you’re drunk at a friend’s house and all they have is a beat up pot and half a box of dried linguine, butter, and pepper (it can be done!). Get familiar with the ins and outs of your chosen dish. If it’s Adobo, then also explore Adobo sa Puti, Adobo sa Dilaw, etc. See below on several variations I have tested in order to build up my confidence agains Titas who would tell me my Adobo isn’t “authentic”.
- “STUPID” QUESTIONS
Get comfortable with asking questions that sound silly in your head. The best teachers will take the time to address them and in fact, you’re helping them become better teachers by remembering what it was like to start out. Ask why vinegar is the key ingredient to adobo, ask why knives need to be sharp, ask why some cooks add a frying step to their adobo while others do not. Imagine you’re that annoying 5-year old kid who keeps asking “why”. Then ask some more.
Filipino Adobo Definition: Meat pickled in vinegar.
*Vinegar breaks up your protein leading to more tender meat and preserves your dish. Gets better over time and doesn’t require immediate refrigeration.
Adobo Template: Protein + Vinegar + Salty Component (salt, soy sauce, etc.)
Pork (or any other protein)
3:1 White Vinegar to Soy Sauce
Whole and Ground Peppercorns
Toss all ingredients in a pot and cook over low heat until pork is done and has a springy texture. As an optional step, remove the pork once cooked and fry separately until brown and fat has rendered. Pair with Garlic Fried Rice (day old rice or fresh rice dried out in a low heat oven, minced garlic, salt & pepper to taste).
Paolo’s Fridge Clearing Adobo (4/5/2020)
Korean Plum Vinegar + Salt
Garlic + Onion
1:1 Vinegar to Water + few tbsps. of Soy Sauce
Garlic + Ginger + Star Anise
Vinegar + Salt + Chilis (opt.)
Garlic + Onion + Tomatoes