How long does it take to master a recipe?

Pati Jinich couldn’t understand why all the fuss had to do with Lomitos de Valladolid, the simple dish of chunks of pork tenderloin cooked with tomato and onion that she’s tasted all over the Mexican peninsula. Yucatan while filming his PBS show, “Pati’s Mexican Table.” ”

“I always wondered why every restaurant and hotel serves this dish in all these areas when it’s not so good – just pork meat, cut into small pieces, then cooked and served in a watery tomato sauce, ( that) you eat with tortillas and the black beans,” said Mexico City-born Jinich, who is a chef and cookbook author in addition to hosting her award-winning James Beard PBS series. ; it’s called lomito – the ending “ito” referring to something small or really loved. And there’s a town’s surname in the name, which means the town is incredibly proud of it. I kept ordering it, thinking maybe I had something wrong.”

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That was until she arrived in Valladolid. His first task upon arriving late at night at the Hotel Mesón de Marques was to order another plate of lomitos for room service. “It was life changing,” she said. A distant cry from the tasteless versions she had been eating for days; this rendition featured caramelized carnita-like meat in a succulent jam of deeply reduced tomatoes and onions – served on a grilled tostada with refried black beans and avocado.

A distant cry from the tasteless versions she had been eating for days; this rendition featured caramelized carnita-like meat in a succulent jam of deeply reduced tomatoes and onions – served on a grilled tostada with refried black beans and avocado.

When she went into the kitchen to find out how the chef was doing it, she witnessed the crucial step that so many others around the Yucatan seemed to miss.

“In Valladolid, we cook it until everything is cooked, but so they open the lid and continue to cook until the tomato and onion blend together – an irresistible tomato-onion paste – and the pieces of meat are almost dry,” she said. . it’s ready, cook it for another 40 minutes.'”

She shared this example to illustrate the delicate balance of formula and feel that separates a usable recipe from a great one — the hours of repetition, tinkering, and error needed to come up with answers that may seem illogical to no-ones. – initiates.

“Sometimes it’s the most basic, unexpected things that are actually counterintuitive,” Jinich added. “You have to learn from someone who does it right and can give you that crucial part of the technique that you can’t read between the lines of a recipe.”

The concept that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a complex skill was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book. Outliers: The Success Story. At the time of publication, the Gladwell team had yet to answer my question about how cooking (and its wide range of required skills) fit into this build. Either way, recent studies have shown that 10,000 hours isn’t necessarily the magic number to achieve greatness due to a host of overlapping factors like environment and genetics. Still, you can’t deny the benefits of repetition in the kitchen, especially on something simple but incredibly elusive, like making a perfect omelette or cooking a steak just right every time.

Repetition is the lifeblood of professional cooks, who spend hours every week preparing the same dishes with (hopefully) the same level of quality and consistency. The same could be said, to some extent, of those responsible for preparing the majority of meals for their household.

And yet, the proliferation in the food media of recipes featuring one trendy ingredient after another has freed many home cooks from their little frameworks of mostly inherited recipes – making many of us restless flavor pies, always looking for the sequel. Vicky Bennison, the creator of YouTube channel Pasta Grannies, which documents women in Italy who still make fresh pasta by hand (and inspired a 2019 compilation cookbook), agreed.

“Modern cooks have so many choices,” she said. “For the older generations (in Italy), there were a limited number of dishes – depending on seasonality and income. At the same time, children, especially girls, were encouraged to get involved in the kitchen from an early age alongside a multitude of female parents, so their culinary memories developed along the way.Consider, for those with access to land, growing your own produce when learning that which tastes ripe or is at its best.

Watching the signore knead and roll out fresh buttercup-coloured pasta is rhythmic and soothing; Bennison once joked to me that it was like watching the laundry spin, in that ASMR sense. Women’s decades of honing their skills have imbued the kind of mastery that means they can smell the right flour-to-egg ratio in pasta dough and know implicitly how much liquid is needed in wet or dry weather.


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“Making pasta, I think, takes attention to what you’re doing, and it’s this mix of practice or repetition, memory and attention to taste and texture, that makes us a master,” she said, adding. “But I couldn’t put a timescale on that!”

It is easy to internalize the devotion that comes from necessity, limited resources and livelihoods. For those of us privileged to cook for different reasons, the determination that drives us back to the kitchen to cook the same dish over and over again, screw up after screw up, until we get it perfect must come from a deep place. inside, as Jinich pointed out.

It is easy to internalize the devotion that comes from necessity, limited resources and livelihoods. For those of us privileged to cook for different reasons, the determination that drives us back to the kitchen to cook the same dish over and over again, screw up after screw up, until we get it perfect must come from a deep place. in.

“I think, on the one hand, it has to be something ambitious,” she said. “You think that by making fresh pasta or corn tortillas, you enrich your home with culture, tradition or family ties. (There is) also this part of the value of cooking in itself because you want to nurture and give you time and family, or just you, that space from, it’s not another chore, it gives me sanity. Or it’s therapeutic. Or I need that space to concentrate on this technique and forget about other things.

Jason Wang set out to perfect his father’s cold skin noodles, fluffy noodles with spongy homemade gluten (seitan), back when he was in college. Stir-fried with scallions, soy sauce, black vinegar and chili oil, the dish is a hallmark of Xi’an Famous Foods, the New York restaurant chain that Wang’s father opened in 2005. to share food from his native West China, and where Wang is now owner and CEO.

The awesome two-day process involves making dough from wheat flour and washing it until the starch separates from the protein, or seitan. After standing overnight, leavening agents are added to the seitan before it is steamed and then cut. Meanwhile, the remaining starchy liquid is poured into baking sheets, steamed like big pancakes, sliced ​​and added to the seitan. For a dish with so few ingredients, cold-skinned noodles are temperamental and complicated; everything from the humidity of the air to the consistency of the starchy liquid and the steaming temperature can affect the outcome.

“People don’t make this dish mainly because it’s such a waste to make at home,” Wang said. “It takes two days to make it, after which it may or may not have worked. If so, you might get a few servings of it. That’s why it’s usually served by street vendors. is a great dish, but it’s hard to pin down.”

Part of what makes it so difficult is the fact that you can’t be too precise with the measurements; the formula and the method require a certain fluidity. The maker has to pay attention and know what it should feel and look like – which only comes with hard practice. Indeed, what got Wang through the agonizing hours of repetition and error lay deeper than the need to standardize the dish as Xi’an’s eventual owner, so he could teach it to staff. or, possibly, immortalize it in the restaurant’s 2020 cookbook. It was about preserving the more traditional version of this dish that he and his father grew up ordering from handcarts in rural Xi’an to gobble down on hot summer days.

“We appreciate the traditional way of preparing and serving it with the traditional sauces that can only be found in small towns and villages,” Wang said. “That’s why we’re so proud of it; we almost keep a time capsule of food. Nowadays, people like to try new things, and the restaurant business is all about bringing things that no one has ever views before.me a traditionalist but i really respect the old ways of someone serving the same thing for decades or even 100 years.i feel like it has value.if it’s done too long, something must be right about that.

Of course, we are the beneficiaries of the work and countless mistakes of ambassadors like Wang, Jinich, Bennison, Israeli chef Yotem Ottolenghi and Italian food writer Marcella Hazan. They spent time alongside the experts who perfected these dishes before them, practiced enough to discern for themselves those counterintuitive details that take dishes from good to irresistible, and then chose to share the results with all of us. At some point, however, we have to take that mantle back – and come back every day with as much curiosity as we can to learn what a corn tortilla feels like with just enough moisture to puff up as it should when we nibble or what it looks like when tomato and onion have melted into a browned jam just like lomitos achieve perfect caramelization.

“Curiosity exists as long as you want to do it right because it means something to you,” Jinich said. “Getting it right will do something for you – give you meaning, connect with someone, ground you, make you feel at home.”

Find Jinich’s exhaustively tested recipe for Lomitos de Valladolid here.

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