Saturday, August 31, 2013

Simpler Can Be Better


Sometimes simpler is better. And sometimes...it's just simpler. I take a similar view toward simplicity versus complexity in cooking as in art, namely, that they're just different ends of a spectrum of approaches. It matters a lot what you're trying to do in a piece (or dish). The more elements and the more details included in a piece, though, the more convoluted it can be, and you can end up confusing things rather than improving things. With colors as with flavors, too many things working inharmoniously together results in "muddiness".

There's a dish in Chinese cuisine, liang ban huang gua, that is a marinated cucumber salad. Pictured above, I added in red bell pepper. And while the flavors didn't clash, I didn't feel like the peppers worked with the marinade to produce a harmony of flavor greater than the sum of its parts. There've been other times I added vegetables that probably shouldn't have been added and made things worse. Simpler can be better. But of course, when complexity is done well, it's really impressive.

I've started reading Gulp, by Mary Roach (it's great so far: interesting, you learn things, and written with some lightheartedness), and there's a great passage early on where the author is speaking with Sue Langstaff, a sensory analyst who is a consultant to the brewing industry (she smells and tastes things to tell clients what's wrong and what they could do to improve things). Langstaff warns against "equating complexity with quality", noting that all the long lists of descriptors attached to wines are just marketing. She also intriguingly asserts that she'd pick a Budweiser over an IPA since it's very well made while IPAs are not "sitting and sipping" beers but rather are better for having with food.

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