Day 3: Onion
Recipe: Mac and Cheese with Soubise
If I had to define what my relationship with onion was on Facebook, it would definitely fall under that obnoxious category, “It’s Complicated”. There really is no other way to put it.
And so with great trepidation, I began reading the section on Onion, knowing full well that I was going to have to cook something from it. There was going to be no hiding, no slight-of-hand. I was going to have to face my complicated relationship full on, and in full view on my little slice of heaven here.
So here goes nothing.
The subtitle on this section is “The Chef’s Secret Weapon”. A fairly accurate assessment in my experience. Onion is found in the most basic of dishes, and there is a good reason for that.
Onions add both sweetness and savoriness – that meaty umami effect that we recognize as a satisfying depth of flavor – in varying degrees depending on how you heat them. (p.68)
It’s at that point that I realized Ruhlman was articulating what I had always known about my cooking – I’ve been missing that umami effect. What is umami? It’s a Japanese word defined as “pleasant savory taste“. Most people have likely never heard the term. I am only aware of it because of my interest in cooking, and watching way too many episodes of No Reservations.
But I digress.
It’s a difficult thing to admit to the world that while I admit my handicap as a cook who has openly skipped the onion in most recipes, it’s a whole other thing to have that moment of “oh crap, my cooking really is suffering because of that missing component“.
In any case, this is part of what my quest is about – I’m here to learn.
The section goes on to cover different techniques of cooking onion, and a bit on shallots in particular. What I’m calling the “Alton Brown vibe” continues in this section, going into a bit of the science behind how onion behaves in different methods of cooking. As an avid fan of Alton, this kind of “why this works” writing speaks to the very heart of me as a cook. Also – the photography in this book is outstanding. It is not unlike the photography I saw in Ferran Adria’s recent cookbook, The Family Meal.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I easily passed on making the French Onion Soup recipe. I’m willing to dive into this with everything that I have – but French Onion Soup is just a step too far for me.
Recipe: Mac and Cheese with Soubise
First off – it’s Mac and Cheese. Frankly, this recipe could have been the most complicated in the entire world and I still would have loved it. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Like most kids of my generation, I grew up loving the Kraft Mac and Cheese in a box. Yes, I know it’s terrible. But I still love it. I am glad for that fact because it allows me to appreciate this kind of gourmet version on a whole other level.
The soubise sauce is incredibly rich, and so good it buckles the knees. No, seriously. It’s that good. Depending on how much experience someone might have making mac and cheese that involves more than following the directions on the box, this might seem a tad overwhelming. I promise you, have no fear and the end result is a great reward. For someone like me who had never truly attempted this kind of gourmet mac and cheese, it was mostly just time-consuming. The work put in was entirely worth it.
I am glad that I survived this section. This recipe had just over a full onion in it, so don’t think that because I made something that was in my foodie comfort zone that I somehow managed to skate by without touching much onion. The key to this recipe, for me anyway, is that the onion was perfectly proportioned in terms of accomplishing balance in the overall flavor. It also didn’t hurt that I pulverized the holy hell out of the onion, so there was no way I was going to come across a random bite that screamed “ONION”.
I still don’t like it. I don’t think that will ever change. I fully believe that I am just really sensitive to the flavor, and the texture just wigs me out. I’m now confident that I can find a happy medium so that I can co-exist with onion without becoming best friends with it.