Friday, June 02, 2006

Chicken broth and button mushrooms

Two meals, both involving homemade chicken broth and sliced button mushrooms. One turned out uninteresting, the other flavorful. It's amazing how you can cook with the same ingredients and arrive at totally different outcomes: it's sort of the antithesis of convergent evolution.

First, the unassuming meal. I made jasmine rice according to the instructions on the package, just substituting chicken broth for water. In addition, I scattered sliced button mushrooms on top of the rice, along with fresh rosemary and sage. I hoped this would lead to a flavorful rice along the lines of pilaf. What I got was bland rice (apart from the moments when I bit down on rosemary or sage). The chicken broth and the aroma of jasmine rice cancelled each other out. Forgetting the lesson I had previously learned from a bland pilaf, I didn't add salt as a pick-me-up. On the other hand, button mushrooms are considered a bland-flavored mushroom. What does it say about this dish if the button mushrooms were one of the most strongly-flavored components? They were steamed on top of the rice, and the steaming brought out every nuance of flavor.

Another night, another dinner. This time, I decided to have a pork chop with miso sauce and pasta on the side. Mark Bittman's "Pork Cutlet with Miso-Red Wine Sauce" recipe (from The Minimalist Cooks Dinner) has become a go-to recipe for me. The recipe is simple, which means that it's easily adapted to different ingredients. I've cooked it with pork and chicken, different varietals of red wine, red and white miso, sherry and, now, chicken broth.

Fresh from the chicken-broth rice debacle, I worried that the sauce for the pork chop would be uninteresting. Luckily, I was wrong. Perhaps the process of cooking down the sauce by half before adding the miso helped. Even before the miso was added, the sauce tasted deep and savory, almost like a beef broth. The miso added (as is its wont) a further layer of winy complexity to the sauce. The mushrooms took on the flavors of the sauce, then concentrated them further. My only knock against this incarnation of the miso sauce is that it was a little too salty, probably because I seasoned the pork chop with salt and pepper before searing it in the skillet. That's easily corrected. Once the sauce was done, I poured it over the pork chop and a pile of spinach fettuccini on the side. It vanished shortly after it hit the plate.

Thank you, Mr. Bittman. The next time I visit my parents, I know your recipe will provide a template for at least one home-cooked, delicious meal.

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