Before we get into the porn…
I am thinking about this post as the “yada yada” crap. All the “stuff” I feel compelled to get out of the way before we begin the serious discussion of glorious, beautiful sexy food. Tedious—yeah, maybe, but stuff I feel is necessary to talk about before we hit the ground running.
Cooking is one of the loveliest and most rewarding creative processes around. There is a lot of room for originality and innovation, and there is nothing more soul-satisfying than watching the people you love enjoy something you prepared with every single fiber of your heart, your mind, and your spirit.
But…you must understand a few basics and technical points before you can produce bona fide food porn. Almost anyone can slap some chicken in a pan and brown it for x minutes per pound. A food porn creator should be able to poke it, fiddle with it, watch it, sniff it and feel a deep connection with everything that is happening throughout the entire process.
A food porn creator needs to understand and celebrate the metamorphosis of a dish from beginning to end.
It isn’t much different from seeing edgy hairstyles and bold hair color techniques produced by a hair stylist. The styles can be creative and audacious, and you may not always “get it”: but I can tell you there is a serious technical foundation and a lot of know-how underneath all that innovation.
If there is one single lesson I can impress upon you, it is this: it is virtually impossible to produce a really fabulous and sexy dish unless there is a concrete technical foundation underneath all that glamour.
The “rules” are few, but sacrosanct:
1. Mise en place. Literally, French for “putting in place.” In culinary terms, that means you have all of your equipment out and all of your ingredients measured, chopped, arranged and in place before you begin. I cannot stress enough how important this is and it is the one rule where I am an absolute stickler. There are times the recipes Cathy and I will share with you will go really fast and use serious amounts of heat in a very short amount of time. You cannot afford to hit mach one and then realize you forgot to chop the freaking onion or that you are out of milk.
2. Heat is king. I’ve taught some cooking classes in my time, and if there is one challenge I find that is fairly consistent across the board, it is that people are afraid of heat. That needs to stop. Certain types of food that aren’t cooked at a high enough temperature are pale, greasy and do not qualify as food porn.
(And don’t be afraid of frying your food. Remember those old Crisco commercials: “It all comes back but one tablespoon”? That is not a myth; that is the absolute truth. You will actually ingest very little fat from well-fried food, but it won’t happen if you don’t crank up the temperature. I am not saying you need to go all crazy and set your kitchen on fire, but controlled amounts of high heat is often key for producing food porn at its finest.)
3. Go for the gold. Ingredients that are browned to a deep, lovely bronze will contribute a thousand times more flavor to a dish than pale, barely cooked ones. Of course, there are times when, for example, a mirepoix or trinity (two different mixes of seasoning vegetables) should not be cooked past the translucent stage because the finished flavor profile of a dish should be more delicate. But when going after big flavors, you need to brown, brown, brown the living daylights out of your ingredients.
4. Salting the proper way will make or break a dish. Adding salt during the cooking process ensures your food tastes seasoned. Adding salt after the dish is finished ensures your food tastes salty. I use three kinds of salt in my kitchen: table, kosher and sea salt and each has its own important place in my food porn. I realize that some people need to watch their salt levels on the advice of their heath care professional and that is fine; however, that kind of cooking usually doesn’t qualify as food porn.
I’m sure I’ll probably come back and update this list as more things occur to me, but those are the most important ones for now.