Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cooking with "ingredients"

One dish that I particularly enjoy eating is chicken parisienne (a dish my French wife, who lived for many years in Paris, had never heard of). Here's a typical list of ingredients for this (and pretty close to how I made it):

"Condense soup, not books" - Project 366 2008 - August 10, 2008~
The are not ingredients!
Photo by turtlemom4bacon
  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika to taste
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 (4.5 ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
My wife is mystified by this and doesn't understand why "can of soup" would be listed in a recipe, but to me that sort of ingredient list was natural. In the US, it was common to see recipes listing "1 cup of Brand X goo", "box of vaguely edible things" or "can o' soup".

Me? I make a pretty mean fried chicken involving marinating the chicken overnight in buttermilk, a proper cast iron skillet, some flour, beer, and a package of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning powder.

I was so used to the brand-driven consumer culture in the US that I didn't think about this too much. Sure, I told myself that I'd learn how to duplicate that seasoning mix myself ... but I never did. I got so used to eating things out of boxes and cans and pouches that I plain forgot what food was. So when I made fajitas for friends from France, my wife set out snacks before the BBQ and the children were happily eating salad and cherry tomatoes and not just the wasabi peanuts and other less healthy things. It was simply natural for them to eat food.

I'm still getting used to cooking over here, but I'm also spoiled by having a wife who's an excellent cook.


  1. Michael Pollan's books would be interesting to you if you haven't read them... especially "In Defense of Food".

    He has a rule you can use to tell if something is food:
    -did it come from a seed or spore? Y/N
    -did it have a mother? Y/N

    It has to say Yes to one of those.

    Re chicken parisienne... I'd never heard of filet américain in America either. Nor "American Fritesaus" (I think it's called that because it first came from McDonald's).

  2. I've eliminated 95% of canned goods from my pantry. I'm keeping the basics for emergencies and for things like coconut milk, which I will never get fresh. But it is a transformation.

    In America, eating real food is a challenge. The industrial agriculture/packaging is just so strong and so inexpensive it is difficult.

    Fortunately, I don't know how to cook American food. I've never used a can of soup as an ingredient for anything I've made because I only know how to make Thai and Chinese food (and barbecue, I suppose). I make my own stock (from a whole chicken!), I pickle my own veggies.

    Reading your post reminds me how frickin' European I am at heart. I am getting impatient... I want 5 weeks of vacation. But I need a roadmap to where to go and I need more connections there.

    Hopefully, some mutual friends will move there soon.

  3. I am one of the lucky few Americans who gets OVER five weeks vacation time actually which is a VERY good thing since I am a migraine sufferer so Spring and Fall are my nightmares as the weather constantly fluctuates.

    Patrick and I mostly cook everything from scratch and the only cans we have in our pantry are a few cans of tuna and salmon just for ease for making the impromptu tuna salad or salmon burger. Patrick does keep an emergency box of Mac and Cheese in there also which is a hold over from his childhood and it usually sits there for months before he breaks into it on the nights I work late or something. I was raised with my parents cooking everything from scratch and did not eat processed food until I went to college and discovered Top Ramen and the like thanks to my roommate (who nearly fainted when I confessed to having never eaten a corndog).

    You spoke about the ranch in you BBQ - I will say that I do try to keep a packet of cheap Onion Soup on hand for doing roasts in the crock pot since it is much easier - though I know what seasonings to do if I was to lose my onion soup mix. When I was a child I was horrified when I would go to friend's houses for dinner...half the time I could not eat and would pretend to. It was canned veggies and canned this and boxed that or meat with ketchup. I still to this day have a salt issue and most of that prepackaged crap is nothing but salt or sugar!

    Patrick and I one night were grocery shopping and laughed later because we were like, "ohh, scalloped potatoes in a box - let's make that and be naughty!" Neither of us could eat it - seriously, it was GROSS! All I could taste was sodium.