January 6th 2016
Today I cooked dinner for maybe the second time since Alice and I have lived together. Alice has been unwell the past few days, so I told her that I’d make Spag Bol for tea tonight – except, I used tagliatelle instead of Spaghetti so I guess it was technically ‘Tag Bol’.
I enjoyed it. Spag Bol/Tag Bol is the kind of dinner that I like to cook because you just get one big old wok, and keep chucking stuff into it until you have a dinner. Fry some onions. Add mushrooms, garlic and chorizo. Add mincemeat, a stock pot, chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, Worcestershire sauce and more garlic.
Then just leave it on a medium heat. Boom. Done. Simple, easy, tasty. Except today I fucked it up somehow and after I put everything in it tasted bland, so I had to keep adding different quantities of various seasonings until it tasted okay. And therein lies my problem.
My palette is not sophisticated enough to know what is missing from a dish. I can’t taste individual flavours, or pick out hints of such-and-such in a meal. I barely even stop to chew my food when I eat it. I pretty much eat for energy, not enjoyment. And so when my Spag Bol tasted like crap I didn’t know how to fix it. So I kinda just started chucking varying quantities of random seasonings into the wok and kind of just hoped that it would work. For a while, nothing did work.
I’m sure that if Alice weren’t asleep in bed she could’ve tasted it and gone ‘hmm… needs more X’ and solved for X. But I did what I tend to do when I don’t know the solution to a problem and headed to the internet.
‘How do I make my spag bol richer’ I typed.
Someone on mumsnet suggested Tomato Ketchup, so I plopped a bit of that in there as a substitute for tomato puree. I kept scrolling through mumsnet and among the oregano, garlic, and rosemary shouts (all of which I chucked in for good measure) was the answer I was looking for, and it seemed so obvious.
Now that I knew that red wine was the ingredient I was missing, I could taste where the red wine should’ve been.
All of my culinary knowledge comes from watching my Mum cook, and for tomato-based dishes the answer is always red wine. A couple of glugs will do. That’s the other thing I learnt from watching my Mum cook – measurements are for mugs. “Pour in 175ml of red wine” – nah, just chuck in a couple of glugs and jobs a good’un.
One teaspoon of tomato puree? Nah, just squeeze the tube real tight and see how much comes out first go.
I wish I could cook – I want to be able to cook. But it requires practice, and time, and that innate skill of being able to taste the ingredient that a dish is missing.
Until tomorrow, more often than not, it’s red wine.