Anchower, I know, but stay tuned for PHC on the new Maws joint, and a Chicago safari.
Anyway, I mentioned this briefly in a tweet yesterday, and wanted to expand just a little. I've been aware recently of how much cooking is the repetition of similar tasks at different times in different contexts. There are new ingredients, better equipment, new friends, new techniques, etc. There is also displacement, isolation, and bereavement. It's jarring every time I realize I don't have access to a staple b/c there are not Asian groceries where I live now, and so forth.
But what struck me last night was the experience of returning to an old recipe after time away from it. It's a green Thai curry receipt I learned off of the back of a can of Westernized coconut milk, but it was a favorite back in the 1990s. I cooked it on third dates, and my folks really loved it. It goes like this:
Heat green curry in coconut milk, add diced chicken breast, add brown sugar/fish sauce, add basil, add stock, add frozen peas, serve over rice.
Nothing fancy, but comforting on a cold night. I doubt if I've made it though, in the time I've been doing this blog, which is now longer than I care to consider (2005). I was working from memory, and a couple of things immediately struck me. Somehow the process reminded me of long-ago agit about how to cut up a chicken breast, which I've done many times in other contexts since, or at least spent more time with a knife in my hand. Also, it occurred to me that I wanted to punch up the jar of cury (now Maesri rather than Taste of Thai), w/ real aromatics, so I added some fresh ginger and shallot at the beginning. Then I browned the chicken in the curry/aromatic mix, before adding liquids. This receipt was a favorite winter choice for my folks, b/c it's a non-assy application of frozen peas. However, reheating was a disaster, as peas got untenably mushy. I barely thawed some frozen peas, rinsed in cold water, and added as I served.
This version was objectively better, but somehow it felt strange to improve upon something my parents (now dead) had enjoyed so much when I cooked it for them. Cooking is funny like that.