Sunday 12 May 2013

Three diabolical kitchen crimes

And that's the only time you'll ever see these three near my kitchen. How can I best vent my spleen? These all represent a notion of the original but have lost the essence, the flavour, the soul. They are food ciphers. A bit like when you order Pepsi or Diet Coke in McDonalds or some motorway service station. If you actually think about what you're drinking it's nothing like the original. If you had no reference point you'd probably reject this dark, sickly sweet, tasteless liquid out of hand. But you don't because you have the memory of Coke, probably formed when you were a child, reinforced by billions of advertising dollars. Glossy pictures of cool and sinuous glass bottles with a bead of condensation slipping past; pretty young people laughing at something hilarious said only moments before they all agreed to have mad sex with each other; frothy, frosty, thirst quenching Coke/Pepsi/Sprite. And because of all this, you're content to stand there, being yawned at by an indifferent adolescent, pulling the cellophane condom off your plastic straw so you can suck on your waxed cylinder of fizzy filth.

Look, apologies beforehand. This is a rant. For some reason I've not yet fathomed, bad food annoys me. Even when it's not for my consumption, it's very existence irritates the nits off me.


Nothing to do with gravy. Nothing to do with meat. Vegans can eat this stuff. There are only two flavourings: onion salt and malt extract. The rest is starch for thickening and something called ammonia caramel (just like Granny use to make) for colour. Oh, and salt of course. Oceans of salt. 

Gravy, like coffee and mashed potato, shouldn't come in granules. At its simplest, gravy is meat juices and sticky pan scraping, deglazed with a liquid. If you have the time (and you do - just watch the omnibus rather than the individual episodes) then make stock. Stock is the secret to good gravy. But I've banged on about stock before so I won't here. Alcohol is often good in a gravy. Red wine with beef; cider or armagnac with pork - or just apple juice; port or Madeira with most things. Leave your wine bottle remnants next to the hob rather than sending it drainwards. It will keep for days.

Of course, Bisto is quick but if you've just gone to the bother of roasting a joint or a bird, spend that extra ten minutes making a gravy. Put some onions, carrots and celery in with the joint. Mash that up with a liquid, some salt and pepper, maybe some redcurrant jelly or a fruit vinegar and it'll taste better than grotty granules.

Jif Lemon

Lemons are one of life's essentials (my life anyway), along with onions, butter and vanilla pods. Lemons are about the zest as much as the juice. When you squeeze a lemon into food, you also get the citrus oils with the juice. That's what gives you the tang, the smell, the zing, the interest. Without the oils you just have mouth puckering citric acid. Which is all Jif Lemon is... along with sodium metabisulphite. It's from concentrate of course which means it's been boiled - just in case any of those delicious, fragrant but volatile aromatic oils remain. Most flavour is not taste, it's smell. Without the aroma of lemon you simply have sour. It's like going to a concert with earplugs in. Muted! Lemons cost about 25p. Just buy one.

Dried Parmesan

It smells like sick. Need I say more? How is this still on the shelves? Mmm, pass the powdered cellulose, potassium sorbate, and cheese culture that honks like the bottom of a budgie cage please. Parmesan is used on the label the same way 'girlfriend' is on a sex doll. A small piece of parmesan, well wrapped, will keep for weeks, months, in your fridge so why on earth would you ever buy this nonsense? The difference between freshly grated parmesan and this is the difference between newly roasted coffee beans and MDF dust. Mind, Kraft are also the geniuses behind non-dairy cheese so what can we expect?

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