Sunday, January 29, 2012

International Cuisine Basics

      There has often been times when I stumbled into unassuming  establishments specializing in a particular cuisine, and left speechless trying to comprehend the flavors I just took in. Often times these little eateries are run by people who came to this country and still cook how they used to back home. You get authentic food, done right. Let's face it, food from other countries are amazing! Not to say I don't have an affinity for some good old American fare, but I like it all. For me trying food from other regions of the world is fun, educational, and inspiring. The problem for a guy like me is that once I try something I like, my mind starts going to work.
I can't tell you how many times I've been out to dinner, and have been caught in deep thought over one of the scrumptious morsels I was pleasantly devouring. I've chatted up numerous waiters in my day in an attempt to uncover secret recipes, surprisingly, I'm often successful.
      When it comes to cooking flavors from another country, one might easily become intimidated. The idea is to think outside of the box. If salt and pepper are the only two spices in your rack, then it's time to expand. If you are trying to make a Thai dish, you need some Thai spices. Unless your pantry and fridge are already stocked with  the produce and spices  you need, your going to have to hit the store  Trust me the end result will be well worth the extra effort. So, you got your spices, now its time to cook! Let me share with you a few  little tricks I've learned in my years of working over unsuspecting waiters in an attempt to bring their international cuisine, to my home.


     The first thing you need to know is that many of the ingredients may not be readily available. When trying to replicate flavors from another country you have to be able to improvise. When serving an international dish I rarely say the cuisine is authentic, sometimes I just can't find the right ingredients to make lets say an authentic Malaysian dish. This to me isn't  a setback as some may presume, it's an opportunity. An opportunity for me to put my spin on the dish. When I serve the dish I can say it is Malaysian style or Malaysian spiced, and still get to put a bit of my culinary spin on traditional flavors!  

     Spices, spices, spices, there are so many to choose from. Walking up to the spice selection at your local market can be a dizzying to the untrained eye. My advice, start with one, but not just any one. First figure out what kind of cuisine you would like to replicate, then a few google searches may tell you what the primary spices of the region are. Pick one and go for it. It may be curry, tumeric, paprika, or any of the other signature spices out there, but just pick one. Follow a recipe using just that one spice and your usual salt and pepper. This way you get a feel for the flavor of the spice. For instance, when I began experimenting with Indian and Thai flavors the first spice I tried my hand at was red curry. Curry is typically a blend of several different spices. There are many variations , ranging from mild and sweet to hot and spicy. I began using it in simple dishes and gradually became more comfortable with the spice. Once you get to that comfort zone, the doors will open! You will begin to find new ways to incorporate the spice, confidently into your dishes. Now you can proudly add that spice to your culinary tool belt. Click here for a quick and easy guide to spices.

     Aside from having vastly different flavors, many regions have different styles of actually cooking their food. The French  and Japanese are top notch when it comes to culinary techniques. Thanks to today's social media many of these techniques are just a point and click away. There is no substitute for having hands-on instruction from an expert, but I have managed to learn a great deal just from reading, watching people cook, and experimenting on my own. Experimenting with new techniques is a great way to expand your horizons, so to speak, and will eventually make you a better cook. If anyone has a question about a particular technique, feel free to leave a comment, I would be happy to share my insight!

Eat !!!

     Yes folks, my number one piece of advise for someone looking to try their hand at international cuisine is go out and eat! Look for a place that is known for having authentic food. Try different dishes and get a feel for what you like. Don't be afraid to ask questions. On many occasions I have said to a waiter, "this is delicious, how did they make it?" Menus offer very little besides a few ingredients, if you really want to know what went into a dish, ask. Often times the servers are so elated about how much I'm enjoying my meal that they gladly tell me how it's made.
     So go out and try something new, explore all there is to eat. Eating brings people together, food is what ties the holidays together, and great food turns average Friday nights into exceptional evenings with friends. Stay on the lookout, I have some dishes coming up for you guys using some flavors from abroad that are sure to impress your friends and family! So until next time, Happy Eating!!!  


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