Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Cheapskate Cuisine"

The British online magazine "More Intelligent Life" recently ran a very nice article titled: A GOOD TIME TO LOVE CHEAPSKATE CUISINE. The author, Elisabeth Luard, begins with a brief history of British favorite leftover dishes, invented to make odds and ends (or as the brits say, bits and bobs) taste good, and continues with a discussion of the ones that are still on the favorites list.
Waste not, want not, as granny knew well. Scraps from the Sunday beef, leftover slivers of fish, the carcass of a chicken, the last helping of pasta, end-bits from the bread bin, parings from the cheeseboard--it's all good stuff when you know how to use it...--many of these Victorian leftover recipes survived because they taste good. The British love plain food (blame the Anglo-Saxons, who believed that if the meat was good all you had to do was turn it on a spit then slap it on a slab of manchet-bread); but they also love anything in white sauce finished with cheese, baked in a pie or topped with mashed potato.
The author continues with a discussion of the irony that many of these are today's favorite takeout foods, available at deli counters or in the "quick chill" departments (another britishism). She notes that not only are people unlikely to take the time, wasted scraps aren't what they used to be:
The Sunday roast comes ready-boned, meaning leftovers are in short supply. Few of us want to fillet our own fish for the sake of the scraps, or even trim our own vegetables for the benefit of the stockpot. And if we find there are still tops on the beetroot or greens on the turnips, how many of us would know to shred them, scald them and toss them in garlic and oil with a squeeze of lemon?
What can one do to foods to make them really taste great? A quick way, points out the author, is to add the mysterious fifth flavor, umami -- glutamate. Also, a cook can add carmelized meat flavors, fat, white sauce, or highly-flavored scraps. Or some chemistry-assisted frozen-food maker can figure it all out so that one can buy these old time favorites, rather than spend all day rescuing the leftovers.

The article focuses on British foods very specifically -- it reminded me of the food you buy at the Marks & Spencer deli counter, things like the pastry in the photo (from the M&S website). On the whole, there's a lot in common among these foods with what you can buy in the store over here -- like the frozen pot pie (in the other photo), which has been with us for a couple of generations. The main difference, I suspect, is that over here we rely less on white sauces and more on tomato-based sauces. The range: from fancy deli foods to inexpensive, mass-produced frozen foods, holds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read this for a really nice summary of what you can do if you want to make something good out of not much: cheapskate cuisine.

No comments: