The Gleeful Gourmand: Measure for Measure

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Measure for Measure

There is a scene in the great movie Juile & Julia in which Julia Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle are setting up Child’s kitchen to get ready for a cooking lesson. Child relates that she had a hard time making the conversion for the measurements on the recipe they’re about to make. Beck says that the argument over measurements was the biggest one she and Bertholle had while writing their cookbook, and Bertholle agrees, replying that, “measurements do not matter.” Child tells her that they absolutely do matter, and holds up a stack of measuring cups as much as to say, “Look, if they didn’t matter so much, why do we have all these tools? Measurements matter enormously.”

It’s an understatement to say that I agree with Julia Child on this issue. Measurements matter. At least, they matter to me. And that’s a big distinction, as we’ll see in a minute.
Julia Child (as played by Meryl Streep) is excited because she knows measurements matter. A lot.

It’s no secret by now that I love to bake. I love the science of it, and when things go wrong (and after the frustration has settled down), I love going back and trying again to figure out where it went wrong.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending which side of the debate you’re on) for me, the amount of time I spend baking and creating sweets where measurements absolutely, 100% matter, means that when it comes to cooking I rarely ever go off script. It used to make me incredibly tense when I would make the wrong measurement in cooking, or if I didn’t have all the correct ingredients. I have been known on more than one occasion to freak out, throw in the towel and call for takeout when it’s discovered that I’m missing one or two components of the dish I’m making.

Enter the other side of this debate, my husband, who has that rare and uncanny ability to look in the fridge and cupboard and use whatever is in there to whip up an impromptu gourmet meal. He is also, like so many males, very adept at looking at a recipe for the first time and then going off on a tangent and making it his own on the first go-round. He most definitely does not believe in measurements. But then, he doesn’t do much baking either. And sometimes his anti-measurement stance gets him into trouble. For example, when we threw that Kentucky Derby party, I was in charge of making the Mint Juleps. It’s a recipe I’ve worked hard to perfect (and one that is actually a compilation of a couple of different recipes together) and for the first half of the party I was solely in charge of doling them out. But by the last half we were running after little kids hopped up on sugar, and my husband took over the Juleps.

Not really understanding the ratio of Mint Simple Syrup to Bourbon, he made the drinks, well, a little too strong. Like gasping and spluttering type of strong. Even he had to admit that I should stick to mixology, and he should stick to wine pouring (that’s actually a compliment, his knowledge of wine is impressive).

The thing is, I want to get better at improvisation and creativity when it comes to recipes. I want to go off course without getting crazy tense about it and worrying so much about how it’s going to screw everything up. Knowing that there are things you can’t compromise on (oven and range temperatures for one, and having a basic knowledge of how the ratio of sweet to savory works) and things that you can (certain ingredients, and if one would taste better than another) is a good place to start. I think that a good compromise would be to try the recipe the right way first, and then go off on experimentation, as long as measuring spoons and cups were handy.

In that spirit, I submit a recipe my husband made the other weekend by researching a few different recipes and coming up with his own. When he initially told me about what he did to make these chicken drumsticks I was really skeptical. It sounded crazy, like too many ingredients that probably wouldn’t mesh well together. Since it was a dish we were serving for friends, I was especially worried, but kept my nose out of it. They turned out perfectly. Beyond perfect. They were so good it was enough for me to want to never question my husband in the kitchen again (mostly).  So in the spirit of being laissez faire (sometimes) when it comes to measurements, or at least attempting to, I give you this recipe. They are crisp, flavorful and so juicy and tender. And hey, you just might look at it and discover a way to go off on a tangent and make it even better.

Buck’s Mixed Up Chicken Barbecue

• One large package chicken drumsticks (about 12)
• One bottle of Italian Dressing
• Sea Salt, Pepper, Paprika
• ½ cup Panko Breadcrumbs
• 1 cup Flour
• ½ cup Italian Breadcrumbs
• Any mild Barbecue Sauce

Put drumsticks in a Ziploc bag and pour the Italian Dressing over them. Let marinate for 4 or more hours in refrigerate.

Take drumsticks out and add salt, pepper, and paprika. Mix flour, breadcrumbs and panko together. Dredge drumsticks in mixture, being sure to coat evenly. Shake off excess.

Place on a grill with the heat at medium. Grill for 40 minutes, turning as necessary to avoid burning. (Note: Buck didn’t use a thermometer, he could tell they were done when the meat started to pull away from the bone. Use your own discretion in this area)

In the last 5 minutes, baste the drumsticks all over with your favorite barbecue sauce. We love Stubbs Mild Barbecue Sauce. Enjoy!


Elizabeth Wilson said...

Yum! You can't really go wrong with Italian seasoning and bread crumbs (especially 2 types of bread crumbs). The bbq sauce threw me, but when is bbq sauce not good. :)

Kirsten Oliphant said...

Great post! I am the Buck to your Jenna. Wait-you ARE Jenna, so that just sounds weird. Either way, you know that I don't typically measure when cooking. What I have learned is that measurements DO matter when baking or when making rice. After burning jambalaya about 20 times and having to add water and delaying dinner because rice didn't cook, I realized this truth. So at least I'm aware that there are things that require measuring. I also don't mess with the main baking elements when baking (like ratios of flour to oil or baking soda v powder) but I WILL add things like spices or vanilla or chocolate chips even where I deem necessary. There is nothing I love more than looking at my pantry and making up something. But I will usually make sure I know exactly how long to cook chicken so it's done, or what the right steps are if I'm going to deep fry or coat something in panko. Finding the balance of your own creativity and palate with the measuring or adapting other recipes is key.

BUT. If it's not fun for you, don't do it! Stick to what you love about baking and cooking. If that's staying on the exact number of teaspoons, they stay there and embrace it. I love that you gave Buck the freedom with the chicken, even if it was a fail, and that he acknowledged that you were the mint julep maker.

I'd say it's not all about measuring, but it's all about BALANCE. Balance of flavor, ingredients, and in being exact or off-the-cuff.

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