Friday, April 8, 2011

The Power of Omission


The infamous marriage of surf and turf is best known by chewy steaks and gummy lobster tails, but recently I was struck by the magic of a lesser known amphibious union: anchovies and mushrooms.

Elise made these anchovy and 'shroom flatbreads for dinner the other night, and we were amazed at the winning combination of the salty fish and earthy fungi. But what really stood out about this meal was what we didn't put into it: sauce and cheese.

These were not pizzas, though they easily could have been, and thank goodness they were not. Even under excellent tomatoes and ideal mozzarella, the strong flavors of the chief ingredients would not have shone through.

This was one of those rare instances when I didn't want balance. I was prepared with a lemon wedge, but it went into my water instead. These were fishy and mushroomy -- in a good way -- and I wanted nothing more. As I've said before, without the cheese, there's nowhere to hide.

Improving recipes usually means adding a little more of this or that, but as MB's illustrious career as The Minimalist has shown, sometimes scissors are better than glue. This approach is known by many names, such as ingredient based cooking and common sense.

As I write this I'm reminded of a throng of other dishes that are better with fewer bells and whistles (who wants to eat bells and whistles anyway? goats?), and this is more true the better your ingredients are.

I used to make gazpacho with pretty much any supermarket vegetable I hoped to wring some flavor from: tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, chiles, scallions and red onions, along with herbs, spices, lime juice and vinegar. Then one day I whipped up a batch with juicy, sun-ripened golden tomatoes and just a bit of raw onion. I drizzled a touch of syrupy balsamic vinegar and sprinkled in a couple of Marcona almonds and that was it. It was the best gazpacho I'd ever made, or had for that matter.

What are some of your favorite omissions?

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17 comments:

seth soulstein said...

Dairy and eggs! Sure, some things that call for them would need an equivalent replacement - but some you can just leave 'em out of. Most pancake recipes, for example, call for eggs, but if you leave them out, you can still have a might fine 'cake - just a little less....eggy.

Also, for a graphic example of the dangers of human whistle-eating, go to about 9:55 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L__uEBtBExw&feature=related

Jo said...

I tend to make the simplest of foods, just because you really get to taste what you are eating - too many ingredients just make everything taste a bit confused.

Margareth said...

So pleasing to the eyes and definitely pleasing to taste. Love it!

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