For our 16th wedding anniversary dinner, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I had dinner (menu here) on Craigie on Main, site of the Whole Hog Dinner. It has become a tradition with us, and besides, chef Tony Maws (or his customer database) had personally invited us. I was impressed by how Maws has managed his online presence. He blogs, tweets, and sends out monthly email newsletters.
Two days before the dinner, the October newsletter arrived, with a special feature:
We pinned Chef Maws down — in between his duties as Chef, Wine Director, Human Resources Manager, and Maintenance Director — and begged him to unburden himself of some food knowledge that ordinary mortals would find useful. He came up with 10 thoughts — plus a bonus tip for good measure. Here goes:
- If you have room in your cupboard for only one kind of salt, make it Kosher salt
- Use herbes de provence (available wherever spices are sold) in meat, vegetables, salads, and even popcorn
- Substitute mayo or aioli for oil in many recipes. (Making your own is easy!)
- Often lemon, wine, and vinegar can we substituted for each other, or used together for a more dynamic flavor, in recipes.
- Clean your cast iron pan only with salt and oil. If you do not have a cast iron pan, buy one.
- When in doubt, the wine of the region will usually taste great with the food of the region
- Don’t wait til the end to add all the salt a recipe calls for. Taste and season throughout the cooking process and add salt in little bits. This will dramatically increase your flavor.
- Only use fresh spices and grind/crush them yourself (especially black peppercorns!).
- Sharpen your knives regularly even if you don’t think you need to.
- Don’t worry about following recipes exactly; always substitute if you find fresher, reasonably similar, or more seasonal ingredients to those the recipe calls for.
Bonus tip: Add a vanilla bean to sugar; cover and use wherever sugar is called for.
I can report honestly that I do all of those things, but it has taken me years to get to that point. But I thought I’d pass them on because they’re so useful as “meta-tips” that aren’t recipe- or technique-specific.