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Lengthways

15 March 2004

I donít know how many recipes Iíve read, in thirty-odd years of cooking. Tens of thousands, surely. For sheer happy idiocy, my favourite is still one of my motherís, which included the instruction to Ďtake the bowl to the cow, and milk one pint directly into ití. For a generation of collective folly, the award goes to all those who have ever said ĎFry the meat, to seal in the flavourí - actually frying does the reverse, it opens the pores of the meat to release juices and hence flavour. Browning the meat does caramelise the outside and hence add a whole new dimension to the taste, which is probably how the confusion arose, but thereís small excuse for its perpetuation.

Anyway, I have a new candidate for individual stupidity. I cooked a chicken curry last night, flavoured largely with tamarind and tomatoes; it was the first time, so I followed the recipe quite closely (except that I used thighs rather than breast meat, so had to cook it longer - thereís more flavour, and I do like sucking meat off the bone). And it says, indeed this is the first thing that it says, it says ĎAs the chillies in this dish are split lengthways, the heat isnít overwhelming.í

Excuse me? I was so shaken by that, I forgot to put any lemon into my lemon rice. Look, Iím happy to acknowledge that garlic changes its nature, the more you interfere with it; left whole, the cloves are sweet and mild, and as you progress through slicing and chopping and crushing and pounding, so they become more and more pungent. I donít know how that works, but itís incontestable. Chillies, on the other hand - no. A chilli contains a certain quantity of capsaicin, and thatís that. The smaller you chop it, the more quickly the chemical will be released into the rest of the dish; leave it whole, and much of the heat will be retained within the chilli. This much is obvious. Which angle you approach it from, lengthways or widthways - no. Thatís not even superstition, itís absurdity to suggest that it could conceivably make a difference. I am smitten by a whole new idea, for a book of quantum cookery in which it would make all the difference in the world, but alas, it would be fiction...


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.