Recipe tweaking: Asian Chicken Salad
Anyway, this recipe — from Mark Bittman's book, The Minimalist Cooks at Home — was a real stinker the first time. Mostly my fault: I misjudged the amount of water and my cheap bottle of soy sauce is probably a lot saltier than his. The second time around I cooked it my way and it turned out a lot better; it may yet be a keeper.
Here's how much it changed between his version and mine:
Asian Chicken Salad
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp rice or other mild vinegar (cider vinegar works well)
1/2 cup rice
2 handfuls salad leaves (baby spinach works well)
Cook rice by absorption method with 1 cup water.
Peel, deseed, and dice cucumber.
Dice chicken. Combine
Still basically the same, but a bit less fidgety. More of a hot meal than a salad. I upped the peanut butter because I like it; and who scoops half-tablespoons of peanut butter, anyway? Similarly, I upped the Tabasco because I liked the undertone of heat; and because a dash is easier to shake out than a few parsimonious drops.
It seems to me that, to make cooking fun, you need a smidgeon of confidence and a healthy disregard for what your recipe says. Once you know the basic mechanics and have some feel for what flavours work together, you can work by feel through a lot of the time.
That said, I've been feeling more like a beginner in my new American kitchen. A different cooker with different idiosyncrasies. Some ingredients are new; some are different; some have changed name; some are harder to find or more expensive than I'm used to. And American recipes all work by volume rather than weight.
It interests me, too, how recipes evolve through familiarity. A lot of my favourites get cooked more from memory than from their recipe card, and a lot of them have changed over time as substitutions and simplifications get made. Most annoyingly for Melinda, most of the changes remain in my memory rather than being committed back onto the recipe card: "oh yeah, it says 1 teaspoon chili powder, but that one's really strong so I use half a teaspoon".