When people begin to learn to cook, they often look for the secret ingredients that will turn them from Cheechakos to Sourdoughs in no time flat. I see this happen with CrossFit as well, people show up to the gym (dojo) and they want the black belt handed to them after their first lesson!
I love the belt system that is used in The Martial Arts because it helps people realize that there is a progression to proficiency that is paved only with consistent, hard work. Watching Karate Kid will teach us this lesson. While Daniel Son wants to do kick flips and Karate chops, Mr. Miagi has him waxing cars, sanding decks and painting fences…This is my attempt to help you guys learn to cook in a Mr. Miagi fashion. By mastering the use of the following five ingredients, you’ll be well on your way to Culinary Ninjahood. I firmly believe that my list, when used properly, will enhance the flavor of any and all foods. Here it is…
1. Olive Oil-I’ve discussed the “Cooking With Olive Oil Controversy” in my article A Flash In the Pan. Mastery of olive oil and its flavorful characteristics is key. I use it as my main cooking agent and feature it prominently in my 5 in 5 for 5 Paleo Mayo, which finds its way on to most of the foods I eat. Curiously enough, three of the other four ingredients on this list are included in the mayo. Hot, cold, room temp, added to ice cream, taken as a shot, it’s healthy, it’s tasty and it should be a mainstay in your kitchen.
2. Kosher Salt– I’ve been infatuated with this stuff since I first laid my taste buds on it. While it is not recommended for the bakery, I use it in all other instances. You can use it to rim your margarita glass, draw moisture from meat, season a steak, or simply snack on, as I used to do… The flakes of kosher salt have a flat platelet shape. Because of this, its volume cannot be evenly substituted with traditional table salt. A common conversion is two parts Kosher salt to one part table salt, but I recommend ditching the recipes altogether and using your taste buds to measure. Along with the recipes, ditch the iodized salt. It has a sulfuric finish that does not belong in food and the iodine is no longer needed in our varied diets. There is volcanic salt, smoked salt, sea salt, and my favorite, Maldon Salt, but kosher salt is cheap, readily available and should be your go-to salt while learning to cook.
3. Freshly Ground Black Pepper– One of the underused heat contributors, black pepper works wonders. The ratio of salt to pepper in foods is 10-20 parts salt to 1 part black pepper. For me, I go with 10 part salt, or less, per one part pepper. I recommend freshly grinding your pepper in small batches and to take it from peppercorn state. However, it is even beneficial to grind pre-ground pepper as it opens it up after sitting to stale on the grocery store shelf. You can watch me do this in the following video, which shows kitchen setup and also features the next ingredient, freshly ground red chili…
4. Freshly Ground Red Chili– Commonly misunderstood as a pizza topping, red chili often stales in its tabletop dispenser and the large flakes pale in comparison to its freshly ground version. Offering an alternative heat to black pepper, this is my go-to for replacing sugar. Its heat is a fore flavor, where black pepper sneaks up on you at the end. Toy around with it to learn its characteristics and how to use it. I recommend adding a ramekin of this stuff to your kitchen counter. Keep it covered, keep it fresh and use it to “Keep It Paleo!” when your sweet tooth calls.
5. Fresh Lemon Juice– I learned to appreciate fresh lemon juice during my stint at The Spotted Pig. Lemon juice refreshes, it cuts, it livens, it denatures, it penetrates, it does all sorts of good things. I would argue that there is no food that a fresh squeeze of lemon does not compliment. Can you think of one? Keep a handful of lemons in your crisper at all times, just be sure to watch out for those seeds.
Now, I understand that you could argue that none of these ingredients are technically “Paleo.” I am not one to get caught up in technicalities. You cannot argue that these are real foods, that are extremely healthy choices when compared to the alternatives.
I hope that this article has given you a jumping off point in your pursuit of proficiency as a Culinary Ninja. Thanks for reading and remember to “Keep It Paleo!”
Your Pal, Paleo Nick This guy’s friend. Happy Birthday, Vin-Diesel!