Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & …Time
As the fatally-wounded film action hero always says: “You go….I’ll buy you some time.”
Time is, as ever,our most precious commodity and the price of a few extra minutes is always worth paying – especially in a busy kitchen. Even with the latest equipment that works better and faster than anything before, those spare seconds are now needed for new reasons. As recently as five years ago, great food served quickly on shining plates would keep the punters more than happy. But now everyone is a critic – not just of taste but particularly of presentation.
Presentation is now a central plank of how a meal is scored and lips will purse at an off-target drizzle or scruffy garnish. Investing in gleaming kit that goes ‘ping’ quicker than its predecessor is of course worthwhile. And the new generation of well-schooled catering juniors should (in theory!) also hasten the production process.
But there are other ways – the ability to shave minutes off meal making by using ‘speed-ingredients’ should be seized at every opportunity. Part-prepped products such as custom-made sauces and pre-blended spices all aid in cutting cook-to-table times. The time-consuming truth is that carefully grinding 15 spices to make a masala or moroccan meat rub is a luxury for a lucky few who have a customer base happy to pay for that trouble. Speaking of which – a good metaphor can be found by turning to the King of Presentation, Mr Blumenthal.
He creates works of deliciously edible art and one of his secrets is the great modern time-saver – sous-vide cooking. Ingredients stay time-trapped in a vacuum, intricate flavours locked in safely-contained harmony until the precise moment they are needed. A great method and great economy of time. Of course, buying time is nothing new. First came sun or wind-dried meat and fruit, then salting, canning and freezing. But those techniques were designed to keep the ravages of time at bay. Today, we need every new trick to beat time itself.