So many people ask me about the difference between whole grain and multi grain, or ask me how to choose a fresh fish, or what cut of meat works best for a braise. As people get back to their kitchens, their culinary confidence builds and so does their sense of adventure, yearning to try new recipes and discover new facts about food. I love when people ask me questions, and I love to ask questions as well. Asking questions always leads to learning something new, and we all want to learn more about what we eat and love to learn that it tastes that much better when we do. There is one thing that I learned through years of asking and training that proved to be the single best advise that I want to share with everyone. It is the one piece of advice that will boost your cooking status to that compared to top trained Chefs and ensure you that you will always have food experts around you offering free advice anytime. And no, it is not the Food Network! When you go shopping for food make friends with your butcher, your baker and your whole food maker. Yes, I am ripping off the catchy rhyme of mother goose, but seriously, talking to these experts each time you shop will change your life.
Next time you go to the market, rather then buying the pre-cut, pre-wrapped steak on the shelf, walk over to the Butcher and say hi. Ask him what steak he recommends for grilling or braising. You will be surprised how excited people are when they get the chance to share the knowledge they know. If you don’t have an old time butcher shop in your neighborhood, most markets today have their own butcher department with an open counter. Talking to the expert gives you chance to ask all the questions you may have thought to google at home when reading up on the recipe. Many times, people are too intimidated about certain recipes because they are unfamiliar with the ingredients themselves. It truly helps to know what cut of beef makes for a juicy roast, or what the difference between hanger steak and skirt steak are. How many actually know where the cut of meat comes from on the animal. Did you know that chickens have oysters? And no, you don’t have to graduate from a Culinary school or have a Personal Chef to know the answers. Just shop with questions and ask away.
The same thing goes for finding a friendly local fishmonger. Rather than buying a bag of frozen shrimp, actually walk up to the counter and ask things far from your comfort zone of the frozen varieties. You know that we all ask the same questions. What type of fish is not too fishy? How can I tell the “doneness” of my salmon? How much do I need for 2 people? Or what seafood dish can pair well with red wine?
And for the vegetarians and vegans in the group, there are plenty of friends for you to make at the market yourselves. Nothing beats knowing where your produce comes from by asking the farmers and vendors at local farmer’s markets. They can tell you what was picked that morning, or what type of green is at peak season. They can share with you prized ramps and fiddleheads that are only available a few weeks each spring, or suggest a good winter squash for oven roasting.
Once you get a first name base with your specialized experts and market vendors they will start to treat you like a superstar. They will tell you about the freshest products and share cooking methods. They will mostly offer you samples or savings not typically given to the shopper who passes over the window and goes right for the shelf. So, next time you see a recipe for herb and lemon stuffed butterflied bronzino served with chanterelle mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns, you may actually find the courage to try it.