You can't make everything from scratch

...but you can sure try!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Semi-From-Scratch: BBQ Chicken

Cooking, like almost every other field of endeavour I've ever come across, is sort of like a fractal: the closer you look at it, the more there is to look at. When looking through the lens of this blog's theme, for example, there's the possibilty of "from scratch" at every level. Take pizza: you can buy frozen pizza, or you can go one level down by buying pizza dough, pizza sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella from the grocery store. If you're a little more adventurous, you can easily make the pizza dough yourself, like I do. And it's not really that difficult to take fresh or canned tomatoes and pass them through a food mill to make pizza sauce. Pepperoni and mozzarella are substantially more involved, but they too can be made from scratch. That said, there's clearly a middle ground between frozen pizza and dry curing your own pepperoni where you can still proudly say that your pizza is made from scratch. There's a reason Carl Sagan is said to have quipped, "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."

I recently made a batch of what I've been calling "semi-from-scratch barbecue sauce" using this recipe. The first ingredient it calls for is ketchup, which I've had on my "to make from scratch" list for some time, especially since reading Jeffrey Steingarten's article "Playing Ketchup" in The Man Who Ate Everything. This time around, though, I just used the red stuff from the Heinz bottle, and I think the results were still pretty tasty.

In the end, you have to ask yourself why you're interested in making things from scratch. Health can be one reason. By cooking from scratch, you can reduce your intake of preservatives and chemicals with unpronounceable names.* But flavour is another reason. Cooking from scratch is a great way to make the most of fresh, in-season, flavourful foods and turn them into something sublime. When you have control over the elements that go into a product, you can make the outcome taste the way you want it to taste. When you buy a frozen pizza, you're stuck with the number and type of toppings the manufacturer has chosen. When you make pizza from scratch - even if you buy pre-made pizza crust - that decision is yours.

Similarly, I could easily buy a Bourbon barbecue sauce. But by making it myself, I can decide if I want to add a little more garlic powder, or substitute real garlic instead. Even though it's based on store-bought ketchup, there are lots of ways I could tweak it to bring it closer to my ideal barbecue sauce.

Next time, I think I'll add more Bourbon.

*Of course, there's a whole argument to be had about whether or not those chemicals are actually "unhealthy." As I've delved into learning about hypermodern cuisine, I've come to appreciate that many chemicals with unpronounceable names are perfectly safe and incredibly useful.