Cooking with confidence
My passion for cooking originally stemmed from my love for baking. Taking tried and tested bygone recipes from my grandmothers’ recipe bibles, I have long found pleasure and comfort in following a step to step guide to baking perfection.
Stained with greasy finger marks, and lightly dusted in generations of flour, I often found myself rigorously sticking to every single notation – I soon prided myself at being second to none at following instructions; but was I really that competent at cooking? It wasn’t until I found a similar passion for other forms of cooking, that I realised my heavy reliance on recipes.
Rigorously following a step by step guide can often reward us with accurate and satisfying results, however, tends to sap us of any confidence within the four walls of the kitchen. Take the recipe book away, and do we really have a confident understanding of the relationship between food and its flavours?
My true enthusiasm for cooking and appreciation for ingredients engulfed my life the day I decided to throw my recipe books aside. Although taking great courage and causing considerable trepidation, the lack of culinary direction forced me to think exactly about the intricacy of what I was actually doing; the construction and attributes of my ingredients, and how they would pair with others.
At this point I finally felt I was cooking – this freedom to experiment and create my own combinations fuelled a desire to explore, examine and probe the world of flavour. Don’t get me wrong, I have not thrown my recipe books in the gutter (that would be crime against humanity!), but they have simply become a form of reference and inspiration.
I am not claiming to be the worlds best cook either as a result of no longer using recipes – that proof is definitely sometimes in the pudding – but it has given me the reign of my kitchen; an environment which I am confident enough to experiment and create my own culinary combinations that change with every season.
One cookery book that will never leave my side is however is; The flavour Thesaurus: Pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook – Niki Segnit 2010. Niki similarly talks about her dependence on recipe books, and sticking religiously to a set of instructions.
In an attempt to evoke cookery confidence in her and others, Niki sought to create a manual that helped the reader to understand the pairing of flavours through their commonalities and differences. An accessible thesaurus that presents an opening list of 99 flavours to simply inspire and offer the reader a guiding hand on their way the culinary independence.
With Segnit’s wise words ringing in my ear I took it on myself to create a seasonal dish that evoked similar excitement with its unusual yet heavenly combination of flavours. Building on the classic combination of figs and prosciutto, I developed my latest recipe; Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Figs.
The sweet figs match perfectly with the lean, meaty flavours of this cut of pork, but require a little acidity to ensure the dish does not become too rich – this is where the velvety, balsamic reduction comes into its own. With floral notes apparent in both the figs and balsamic, fresh rosemary helps to tie this dish together, adding a little earthiness to complement the pork.
Taking your time to really think about the individual components of your ingredients is the secret behind creating a coherent and ultimately delicious dish. Next time, take a recipe, have a good read, but consider swapping a couple of elements to make it your own – you’ll be surprised how satisfying creating your own dish really is!
- 2 Tenderloin portion
- Splash of rapeseed oil
- Course ground salt and pepper
- Pinch of dried rosemary
- Knob of butter
- 2-3 figs
- 3-4tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2tbsp soft brown sugar
- 50ml water
- Fresh rosemary to garnish
- Combine a little oil, salt, pepper and dried rosemary on a plate and roll the tenderloin in the seasoning to completely cover the meat. Sear the loin in a hot pan, browning the meat on all sides – this normally takes a couple of minutes. Place the meat in a pre-heated oven at 180c for around 25 minutes.
- Whilst the meat is cooking in the oven, quarter the figs and sauté in a pan with a little butter for 3 minutes. Once golden and softened, remove the figs from the pan and set aside. Use the same pan, and combine the balsamic, sugar and water. Stir well on a high heat and allow to reduce and thicken before returning the figs to the pan.
- Remove the pork from the oven when its juices run clear and fairly firm when pressed. Allow to rest on the side for about 5 minutes before thickly slicing and spooning over the figs and reduction.