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Friday, July 03, 2009

Youtube: The Spanish Grandmother I Never Had

I didn’t have a grandmother around to teach me how to cook. Growing up we were taught in my family to be very self-reliant. Need some washing done? Here’s the machine, here’s the soap, get cracking. Hungry? You know where the kitchen is. I moved into my own apartment when I was 17 and that pretty much sealed my independence. Most of my early culinary education came through the exigencies of my meager budget in college. I ate lots of bean and potatoes. These are still my two favorite food staples. Along the way I have picked up a few recipes here and there, usually a reflection of where I have lived and traveled: South America, Greece, all over the States, a lot of vacations in Mexico, and now Spain. My kitchen is like the food court at the U.N.

Most of what I learned about cooking has been through trial and error—just about the worst educational tool in my opinion. I’ve had few actual teachers. The internet has changed that problem. Now whenever I am attempting a dish for the first time I will find several recipes at different web sites and then I will scour Youtube to actually see the dish being prepared. With this method I have been exposed to some of the best cooking teachers you will ever likely find anywhere. The best cooking videos out there will walk you through a dish so well that even on your first attempt you will be able to proceed with utter confidence. Adiós trial and error. Don’t let the kitchen door hit you on the ass on your way out.

Just the other day a friend of mine returned from an extended trip to Andalucía. He was raving about a dish he found there called Pollo al Ajillo (garlic chicken). Perhaps it was his mouth-watering description or maybe I was just hungry at the time but I vowed then and there that this would be the very next thing I cooked at home. We had other topics to discuss that evening besides Pollo al Ajillo so I never got the specifics of how to prepare the dish. No problem, I have my Youtube grandmother at home to walk me through it.

My first attempt at Pollo al Ajillo was very acceptable. My Youtube tutor for this Spanish classic was very thorough and clear on every step in the process. I actually started to make one of my crappy videos to document it but my battery died in my camera. I have at least a half a dozen rechargeable batteries and it turned out that they were all dead. I guess I didn’t learn that whole “Be Prepared” thing from my years as a Boy Scout. I learned a lot of other cool things in Boy Scouts so I’m not going to beat myself up over not having any charged batteries lying around the house.

I talked to my friend later about my cooking venture and he suggested another way to make it by flouring the chicken before you fry it in the oil with garlic. Fortunately, I had the good sense not to cook all of the chicken yesterday in my first go at this dish—not because I was showing restraint but because my skillet isn’t big enough to hold an entire chicken. I will try it again today but this time with breaded chicken pieces.

I suppose it takes a certain amount of skill in the kitchen to be able to judge whether or not the instructional cooking video you are watching is worth its salt. If I am making a classic Spanish dish the first thing I seek out is authenticity. I don’t think that I am being a food snob when I say that keeping to the Spanish traditional way of making a dish is important to me—at least it is important when first learning something new. After you have mastered the original recipe then you can feel free to improvise but you need to build the foundation first. So don’t serve me scrambled eggs with potatoes and tell me it’s a tortilla de patatas.

I suppose that Youtube isn’t as good as having a Spanish grandmother to walk me through all of these great recipes, but it’s probably the next best thing. Unfortunately, Youtube doesn’t have a little dog to play with as do most Spanish grannies.