On the border of Spain and Germany

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I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Jess, good God, didn’t you ever take a geography class? I did, but sometimes geography just gets in the way.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. The manuscript for Pike Place Market Recipes is due in nine days. Technically, I have five entire uninterrupted hours to work on it right now, which is why instead of buckling down with a French press and a sheath of notes, I’m blogging. (Procrastination is alive and well.)

The thing is, there’s something about writing a cookbook that’s bugging me. It’s about how we use cookbooks. Yesterday, I was interviewing Uli Lengenberg, the German master butcher and owner of Pike Place Market’s Uli’s Famous Sausage. He’s a big bear of a guy who ferries links around the city on the back of his motorcycle, wearing a canary yellow helmet. And when it comes to recipes, he has opinions.

Yesterday, I asked him what he tells people when they want to know what to do with his sausages. He was emphatic that a recipe is just a guideline, and I couldn’t agree more. “You don’t die if you don’t cook like the recipe says,” he said, hands waving in the air above his tiny little spectacles. “Your love for creating something tasty and enjoyable will always be bigger than the need to follow a recipe.” Yes, Uli.

And my biggest challenge, in these next nine days, is to somehow create a book that gives people perfect guidelines for great food without making them feel totally wed to the recipes. I don’t want the book to prevent people from (as Uli calls it) cooking from their hearts.

As we talked, his love for food spilled into the air, in a genuine, helpless way, circling up around his helmet and his big black work boots and the beer taps halfway between us and the meat case. He explained a concept that I’m very familiar with, but that doesn’t (to my knowledge) really have an English equivalent. Literally, mit fleischeinlage means “with a meat ingredient,” but like so many words in any language, in German, einlage also means “orthotic.” Uli explained that in German, cooking something mit fleischeinlage means that you add to it what you have, and that all of those little things—leftovers, half-dead vegetables, special ingredients that you only have in miniscule quantities—are what add up to make a dish special. All those little things are what support the dish.

When I got home, I took some of his chorizo out of the freezer. I’d been saving it to remake a recipe from the book for Spanish Chickpea and Chorizo stew, but given my conversation with Uli, it didn’t seem like I should hold myself to the written recipe if I had chorizo on the brain and a fridge full of mismatched ingredients. I ditched the chickpeas, and threw in potatoes and cabbage, and a bunch of spring onions that have been sulking in the back of the produce drawer. They’d been back there, forgotten, since I bought them thinking I had to and then cooked spring asparagus instead.

Simmered down for an hour, the stew looked like a remarkably gentle collision between Spain and Germany—the rich, red color of pimenton de la vera and the chorizo crumbles swam around the whitish shredded cabbage and potatoes, somehow coexisting happily, like when my dog and cat are both in good moods and they curl up on the couch together.

At the end of our conversation, Uli told me that he always asks people what they want to cook when they ask him for advice. He doles it out, but always, always volunteers to also show them how to eat it. Might have to pack some of this stew up and head down to the market.

But first, the book. I need to write it mit fleischeinlage.

The UnRecipe
Spanish-German Chorizo Stew starts with good chorizo. Crumble a few fat links into a hot soup pot, and let them cook until your house smells like a different country. Add a big handful of chopped alliums – whatever mixture of garlic, onions, and leeks your refrigerator offers up – and then add about 5 chopped carrots and 3 chopped celery stalks. Season the mixture with salt and pepper and a good dose of Spanish pimenton, then add two peeled and chopped russet potatoes, half a small head of green cabbage (nicely shredded), and enough chicken stock to cover it all. Oh, and glug in some sherry vinegar, because you want a little tang. Bring the stew to a simmer, and go do something else, but every once in a while, come back and stir it.

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2 Comments

Filed under commentary, Lunch, pork, recipe, soup

2 responses to “On the border of Spain and Germany

  1. Lulu

    Uli, you’re my hero.

  2. Feeling you so much right now on this topic! Who ever measures their oil? I find that explicit instructions can make people loose track of their common sense and instincts – don’t break out a ruler to cut your potatoes, just think about what size works for eating!

    And on a somewhat side note, I’m loving the trend of wordless, picture only recipes.

    Good luck writing! Big party come June. We’ll have to champagne by skype!

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