Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stupid Arbitrary Rules

Have you noticed how the world is filled with stupid arbitrary rules? I don't mean practical moral precepts, which are eminently useful. I'm talking about things people tell you to do which serve no purpose whatsoever. Cooking is rife with examples. People do things one way, it gets repeated a million times, then everyone thinks it's inviolable law. Perhaps no other food is so subject to the whim of arbitrary rules than beans. I've written some of these stupid rules myself. And this story just goes to show, such rules were meant to be broken. I got home last night with this brand new iron olla from The Spanish Table, and wanted to try it out so badly, that I just chucked in some dry red beans, water, salt, and a touch of oregano, and threw it on the fire. Not this fire, I mean in the fireplace fire. And left it there, until morning. Reheated it up and the beans were perfect, intact, and yet cooked through. Succulent, perfectly seasoned. And broke every rule about how beans ought to be cooked. Let me know if you have a similar rule-breaking story.


Peter Hertzmann said...

When I run across some these useless maxims, I am reminded of the Dutch optician Leeuwenhoek. One day he went to his closet and found a rat there that wasn't there the day before. Since there was a red shirt and some grain in the closet, he postulated that rats came from red shirts and grain. (At least that's what my high school biology teacher told us.)

Many of the ridiculous cooking rules my students throw back at me — probably learned from the food channel — may have made sense in times past when equipment, power sources, and foodstuffs were different. Unfortunately, people tend to substitute rules for thinking.

Ken Albala said...

Hey Peter, Reminds me of spontaneous generation. You know maggots come from meat, until someone put a glass cover over the meat and disproved it. I think I do have to try out the red shirt and grain theory though. You never know!

rox said...

yes I do ! soaking beans ! I do know there are apparently some stuborn beans out there that are in need of sitting in water for all hours . yet how on earth did this become a rule for all beans ?
I rarely have the memory to do such a thing as to remember I need to soak a bean a whole 24-48 hrs ahead of time . usually in fact I think of it 3 hrs before needing to serve whatever dish it is that needs the beans .

some dishes like baked beans with ham do take a few hrs slow cooking but that is with all the ingredients already added . the cooking of the actual white bean does not take me 8hrs.
okay yes I must say at times I cheat . I do ! I do one little trick , it works , a granny taught it to me .
to my pot of beans I add just a small pinch , maybe 1/4tsp baking soda . thats it . beans turn soft very quickly . just be sure to rinse them off after cooking or they will retian the taste of the soda. I am so not a science person have no clue as to the why it happens . all I know is it works! the beans are soft and this Momma can feed her family that same day .

Llano said...

My mom has one regarding Béchamel Sauce, she does not make it with a Roux, just puts into all the ingredients together, lights the fire (in minimum) and eventually the flour gets thicker and voilá, there you got the white sauce.

I always did it that way too, and when I started studying Cuisine, which is an Orthodox French Technique School, my full-of-sin bechamel sauce was totally uncredited.

sharon parquette nimtz said...

I always told people that beans needn't be pre-soaked, because most of them cook just fine without. Still, some people think that nutrients are more accessible to the body if they're soaked. I try to soak, now, for at least a couple of hours.

lostpastremembered said...

I have quoted your spontaneity theory on my post for this week... most recipes should be like ideas not followed without question (isn't that what gets civilization into trouble most of the time?). Even trucs and techniques should be chosen to suit. On the other hand if someone has a great idea that works... go for it... just not blindly.
As for beans... when they are old soaking helps... when they are really old, NOTHING does!! I've used the baking soda trick that Rox mentioned for years... taught to me by an old lady... I think it helps. And in the confusing department... I read soaking isn't good... that it causes fermentation... go figure.

PS Congrats on your new book.. just got an Amazon prompt!

Ken Albala said...

Deana, You're absolutely right. Old beans are dreadful and need a lot of soaking. There's nothing wrong with fermentation though. But apparently pouring off the soaking water does reduce farts.

Here's anodder rule broken. Marinate thinly sliced meat as you would for a stir fry, soy ginger garlic, sesame oil, with some starch, but instead of stir frying, just chuck into some broth. It makes no sense according to all the rules, but is magnificent in texture and flavor.