Tradition, and its accompanying nostalgia, is something for which we oftentimes pine. Yet we sometimes still complain about the demands placed on our time and the emotional energy that is required. In the fast moving towns and cities where we live, we may seek to avoid these strains by living private lives apart from the past. Still tradition tugs at our heartstrings. This is most especially true around the holidays when special meals allow us a means to bridge this gap. Our appetites are awakened to old ways of doing things that draw us together, and connect us across generations and amongst family and friends. A notable example: Italians practice a holiday on Christmas Eve, which a growing number of Americans enjoy as well, called “Feast of the 7 Fishes.”
Pot roast is one of those winter delights that warms up the innards and makes us feel so satisfied. Sarah Leah Chase’s cookbook Cold Weather Cooking that I found in my attic recently emphasizes this theme. Her recipes continue to stand the test of time and please us today as they did 40 years ago.
As we move closer to the holidays, we look forward to the side dishes that come with our favorite entrees. They are no less popular for many of us than the entrees themselves. Some of my favorites include oyster stuffing; tomato pudding; cranberry salsa; poblano or jalapeno cornbread; roasted Brussels sprouts; honey and carrots; mashed potatoes, parsnips and turnips with roasted garlic and buttermilk with, oh yes, Turkey as well. Personally, I love preparing an array of side dishes which invariably fill me up in extraordinarily satisfying ways — often leaving little room for the bird.
There are many different methods to cooking such as roasting, grilling, sautéing, boiling, frying, braising, poaching, steaming and even microwaving, which I must admit is not a technique I recommend. Today our focus is poaching.
Many people just get Asian takeout when it comes to poaching or steaming. Whether Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai, poaching is a common Pacific Rim cooking technique. In contrast, most Western-style cuisine is more frequently fried, grilled, roasted or braised. French cuisine is an exception as a journey through any Julia Child recipe will attest.
Many of us sell ourselves short not to give other methods a try. Poaching is one of the easiest, quickest most satisfying cooking methods available. Further, poaching is among the most nutritious and healthiest methods ever devised in that it does not use any fat in the cooking process to carry heat to the food. And it is as flexible as the flavoring you add to the liquid.
Recently I overheard a man on the street say “Of course I can cook, I am Italian!” Was this overly confident? Not necessarily. One’s roots are significant and Italian heritage by definition brings with it a culinary sophistication and expertise. Further, the joy and love of Italy’s culinary traditions are wrapped in family life and the 21 regions of Italy itself--each of which are tied to distinct agricultural products. So while Italy is one nation, it has many distinct food traditions tied to the regional cuisine and wine of their ancestors.
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