Monday, August 2, 2010
Yes, I Can
This month's Don't Call Me Chef challenge put me in a real tizzy: cooking with canned food. I admit that I always have some canned food stocked in my pantry. Usually it's a can or two of green peas (my all-time favourite can food which I featured in the column), a can of Campbell's soup (a quick sauce/casserole solution), a can of chickpeas (when cravings leave you no time to soak dry beans overnight) and a few cans of pureed tomatoes - Italian variety tomatoes, cut and sometimes herbed are such a wonderful shortcut.
My, it does seem like I use canned food quite a bit. Anyhow, looking at my stock, I realised that nothing I had was quite exciting enough to be featured. Except the green pea because nothing compared to canned green peas. Yes, I will stand by this.
I usually feature recipes that I am inspired by but this time I decided to use this space to report on my first encounter with a canned food I am unfamiliar with. For that, I had to go grocery shopping. Oh Joy. I decided to scout around: visiting small sundry shops as well as big-chain grocery shops -- just so that I could suss out the selection.
Like a kid in a candy store (or a dude in a tool shop) I spent hours looking at canned food. The kind of food Michael Pollan would balk at. Canned beets, spinach, sliced potatoes, refried beans, sauerkraut, canned raspberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges ... the choices were endless and, mind you, that's only the vegetarian options. For meat eaters, there's more to play with: anchovies, corned beef, luncheon meat and spam.
I really wanted to buy the canned chestnuts and artichoke hearts but at RM15 a can (a small one at that) I was hesitant. Well, actually I turned around and walked the other way, down the next aisle.
I found what I wanted in my neighbourhood shop: Kedai Runcit Peng Soon. My choice was a can of fake meat or "mock chicken". Made wholly out of gluten, this was a challenge indeed. Firstly, the texture of the canned gluten is rubbery. Next, the taste is salty because of the brine in which it sits. The canned gluten is actually pre-cooked but you will not want to eat it as is. Salty with a tinge of chemical is not really appetizing. On the plus side, the canned meat was visually interesting because the fake meat actually had fake chicken skin.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to make a curry with the mock chicken. While I couldn't alter the rubbery texture of the gluten, I discovered that sugar and spice can make anything nice. Cinnamon, star anise, curry powder, ginger, garlic, shallots and lemon grass and a little coconut milk made this gluten curry a tasty side dish which I ate with plain white bread.
The verdict: Would I used canned gluten again? Probably not but it isn't because the dish wasn't tasty; rather, why used a canned alternative when using fresh ingredients are not only tastier but easier?