I like to cook. I’ve probably been doing so consistently for the last five years or so.
It’s not always easy. Working in hospitality does not necessarily guarantee that you will have regular hours, and therefore meal breaks are equally unpredictable.
By the time you get home, it may already be past midnight, and cooking dinner may be the last thing on your mind; a cold beer seems more appetizing.
Thankfully there are some neat gadgets out there that allow you to slow cook and prepare meals beforehand… but that’s another topic altogether.
What I want to cover briefly is the activity of cooking; both how rewarding it can be and how it can improve one’s appreciation of wine.
Just Start Cooking
My impression is that a large segment of the population probably cooks less than, say, once a week.
This might just be a consequence of me a) living in a large city and b) working in a restaurant where, by definition, guests come so that they do not have to cook dinner in their homes.
They might not be fine-dining every night, but avoidance of cooking has never been easier, if the success of food delivery services like UberEats and Deliveroo are any indication.
The popularity of cooking shows like MasterChef or My Kitchen Rules may have awakened some potential home cooks, but more likely than not these are just viewed as sources of entertainment rather than education.
So, if you rarely cook, resolve to cook more often. That’s step one.
If you are only just starting to cook, start simple.
The last thing you want is to embark on a difficult recipe, fail, and then give up out of disappointment.
My tastes are generally very simple:
Useful to have in the kitchen and fridge:
- Olive oil
- Pepper (black/white)
Maybe due to my Asian background I have some other exotic ingredients:
- Oyster sauce
- Fish Sauce
- Chili flakes
- Aonori (dried seaweed flakes)
- Sesame oil
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Salted Duck Eggs
- Century Duck Eggs
…but go ahead and see what you can find at your local grocery store:
- Spices (cinnamon, clove, paprika, etc…)
- Mushrooms (porcini, truffles [$$$])
- Herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme, basil, etc…)
You could start by looking up a few simple recipes on the Internet.
Or, like me, just play around with any of the above ingredients and see what looks interesting.
For rice and pasta, just follow the instructions on the package on how to cook them properly (or look up a video online).
For meats, as long as they are fresh and cooked properly, there should be little risk of ending up with an upset stomach.
I like my steaks medium-rare. Chicken, by conventional wisdom, should be well done for safety, but if overdone they can end up being dry. Check by prying the meat open with a knife or fork to see if it is still juicy on the inside.
(Disclaimer: I am not a professional cook, this is just what I have found works for me. Please practice common sense hygienic food preparation in all cases. Keep your kitchen clean and wash your hands often. I take no responsibility for any mishaps caused by improperly prepared food.)
Outside of this, add whatever sauces, herbs and spices interest you, and voila, you have a meal.
Taste What’s There
Keep track of what you used during cooking.
When you sit down for your meal, see if you can smell and taste everything,
If something should be there and you can’t taste it, think about adding more next time.
Think about what you might want to add in the future.
This will become a habit, and when you do go out for dinner, you will find yourself wondering if you can taste what the chef has put into the dish.
And this skill will naturally extend to wine:
- The green capsicum of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon can be quite pungent.
- But can you get the black olive or black pepper of Syrah?
- Do you sense the white radish or white pepper of Gruner Veltliner?
The point of the exercise is to develop curiosity about what goes onto your palate.
When eating out, most people probably take a bite without thinking. If it tastes good, they swallow.
Wine is treated little differently – the fact that cask wines exist should attest to that.
If you cook for yourself, you are naturally more invested in the outcome because you are putting your own effort into it.
And while the vast majority of us may never make our own wines, we should learn to apply this same curiosity to increase our enjoyment of them.
Read more: Do You Drink Wine For Fun, Or For Pleasure?