Tony’s Top Ten Tips

November 4, 2009

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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:

  1. If you have room in your cupboard for only one kind of salt, make it Kosher salt
  2. Use herbes de provence (available wherever spices are sold) in meat, vegetables, salads, and even popcorn
  3. Substitute mayo or aioli for oil in many recipes.  (Making your own is easy!)
  4. Often lemon, wine, and vinegar can we substituted for each other, or used together for a more dynamic flavor, in recipes.
  5. Clean your cast iron pan only with salt and oil. If you do not have a cast iron pan, buy one.
  6. When in doubt, the wine of the region will usually taste great with the food of the region
  7. 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.
  8. Only use fresh spices and grind/crush them yourself (especially black peppercorns!).
  9. Sharpen your knives regularly even if you don’t think you need to.
  10. 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.

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