Recipe forensics… revisited

A while back, we talked about recipe forensics …. the notion of figuring out the ingredients of a dish by getting inside the head of the person who makes it. Let’s say that person is an ethnic or home cook who has no professional training but just does what tastes right. What ingredients would they have available? What is likely to taste good to them? What methods might have been handed down from previous generations, or the guy who sold them the barbecue shack?

Recipe forensics can help you decode complex tastes, break them down into their individual parts, and start recreating them in your own kitchen. Recipe forensics can also serve as a bullshit alarm when an existing recipe has ingredients that may have been added with ulterior motives. For example, any time I see a recipe that calls for a specific brand of product I will look for cheaper generic options pretty much as a knee jerk contrarian reaction. (A few recipes get a free pass, like the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the Hershey’s package.)

But what really pisses me offgets my goat is recipes with ingredients that are put in there simply to impress or to appear “authentic”. The Saveur Korean fried chicken recipe I started with the other day in making my rendition is a perfect example, which is why recipe forensics is on my mind right now. First of all, it called for rice vinegar when white vinegar is a much better and cheaper alternative. Rice vinegar may be what they would use in Korea where it’s ubiquitous, but in the U.S. it is far more expensive and any flavor distinctions would be lost in this very robust, unsubtle dish. Second, it called for honey when all we need is sweetness… this is when we reach for the bag of Clear Value sugar from Wal-Mart.

I visualize the Korean ladies in the back of the First Korean Market on Geary Blvd, and I just can’t see them struggling with big jars of gloppy honey when they’re trying to get the daily trays out to their eager customers. Nor can I see them driving up their food cost with more expensive ingredients than they need. This one was an easy call, and the results were better (yes, I did try their original recipe, then modified it to my preference). Recipe forensics at work.


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