Get back to the basics with normal ingredients

By Chef Dez | Feb 20, 2013

Have you ever come across a recipe with an ingredient you didn’t recognize? What did you do then? With the Internet virtually at our fingertips, the answer is only a few clicks away.

Did you then go on a wild goose chase or just passed on the recipe altogether and moved onto a different one? I guess it would depend on how obscure the ingredient was.

One of my pet peeves is when I come across a recipe that doesn’t lend itself to the average home chef.

I understand the culinary landscape has changed over the last number of years and will continue to do so. I also understand the desire for chefs writing these recipes to fill the niche in the market of people wanting to expand their culinary horizons.

However, even more so, I believe that these recipes should be meant to inspire the average home chef by providing descriptions or alternative ingredient suggestions.

As a recipe writer myself, I want to make sure that my recipes are approachable by people of all levels of culinary skills.

Before I continue, let me give you an example. I came across a recipe in a magazine recently for a side dish with one of the ingredients listed as “haricot vert.”

Now because of my experience as a chef, and since I know a bit of French, I realize that these are green beans.

When I first saw “haricot vert” listed as an ingredient years ago I thought “How pompous! Why don’t they just list these as green beans? Is it because it sounds fancier, more gourmet perhaps, by listing them as haricot vert?”

But the answer is not that simple: Haricot vert are French green beans. They are longer and thinner than their North American counterpart that we are all familiar with.

I, myself, have never seen haricot vert at my local grocery store or even at specialty produce markets where I live. I have seen, however, green beans that were very thin and long, but still labeled as green beans on the bin.

Were these actually green beans or haricot vert in disguise due to inept personnel in the produce section? I don’t think the problem lies with the markets, but with the recipe creators.

The one writing the recipe should include an explanation of any ingredient that may not be recognizable by the average person, and in this specific case also maybe suggest a substitution of North American green beans.

Another view is the marketing aspect of recipes. A recipe may sound more gourmet if the title of the recipe is called a “bisque” instead of a soup, a “demiglaze” instead of a gravy, or even “haricot vert almondine” instead of green beans with almonds.

This doesn’t excuse, however, that the actual ingredient list or the instructions of the recipe can’t be easy to understand. What would be the harm in that?

If anything, it would make the recipe more approachable and more people would make it, and if the recipe was any good they would then share it with others. Passing the culinary success of a chef’s recipe onto others is never a bad thing – in fact one could say it was good marketing.

I chose to focus on haricot vert in this column because it is something that can be easily substituted for. Green beans are definitely not as obscure as other ingredients I have seen such as: sweetbreads (animal glands), foie gras (duck or goose liver), or veal cheeks (self-explanatory, but not of the gluteus maximus variety).

Let’s get back to basics and just make recipes and food that tastes good. By this I don’t mean that we should all be subject to making meatloaf, chicken breasts, and macaroni and cheese the rest of our lives.

I think we should all expand our culinary horizons and boundaries within our means as, to borrow an old cliché, variety is the spice of life.

I think we, as chefs and recipe creators, should have it in our visions to include people from all walks of culinary skills in the process of our recipe writing to make it easier for everyone to delve further into the culinary arts.

Lastly, I feel compelled to mention that this is just my opinion, and opinions are like armpits – everybody has them. Now excuse me as I am off to make some “macaroni au fromage” for my children.

Send your food/cooking questions to dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4. Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor and cookbook author. Visit him at www.chefdez.com.

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