Why We Cook The Way We Do

Have you heard the story of the woman who strives to make her mother’s delicious beef brisket for the first time? It turns out great and everyone loves it; but they all have one small question. Why did she cut the ends off? I have no idea, she says, it’s what my mother always did. So next time she see her mother she asks and says the same thing: that’s what my mother did. So now they’re both really curious and ask grandma the answer to this mystery, to which she answer’s: “It was the only way to get it to fit in my pan!”

There are a couple variations to this story but the gist is the same. We do things without knowing why and cooking is no exception. There’s really nothing easier than following a recipe, but that does leave out a few details, doesn’t it? Growing up my mother always used bay leaves in her soups and in her gravies and, just like woman in the story, I do to. Tuesday’s recipe got me thinking, what the frig does the bay leaf do?

I boiled a couple of bay leaves from Penzeys in a cup of water and all it tasted like was really weak lousy tea. Getting a read on what exactly bay leaves do is kind of tricky. They’re supposed to add flavor and deepness which I didn’t really get from my little experiment. I also didn’t taste any bitterness that you are sometimes warned against.

I’ll have to do some more checking, maybe making the same soup with and without bay leaves to compare. But I’m wondering, what things do you do with some dishes and you have no idea why?

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