June 4th 2018
Today I tried to cook Vietnamese chicken vermicelli. I’ve been kind of obsessed with the concept of Vietnamese food ever since I had it — for the first time ever — at Monsiuer Vuong’s in Berlin a couple of weeks ago. Then, when I was in London this weekend I hunted down more Vietnamese food at Pho. But tonight I decided to try and make it myself.
It was probably somewhere just beyond the sphere of what I am culinarily capable. To be able to cook chicken vermicelli, I had to buy a load of ingredients that I would not ordinarily purchase. Like, for example, vermicelli noodles.
The problem was that ALDI is not the kind of supermarket that sells fresh vermicelli noodles. So I bought some packet ones instead.
Other than fresh coriander, the only other thing I couldn’t get was rice vinegar – mainly because I wasn’t entirely sure what it was, but I figured it couldn’t have been that important, so I just elected to use cider vinegar instead. I figured that that was basically the same thing, and to be fair to me, later research backed up that notion, but it was the cider vinegar that ruined the dish in the end. Not because it wasn’t an adequate substitute for rice vinegar (whatever the hell that is), but because I used too much of it.
I think the importance of precision in cooking is distributed like a bell curve.
At the low end of the spectrum, precision isn’t as important. If you’re a really bad cook then you needn’t be precise with the limited amount of cooking that you do do. If the packet of the microwaveable chicken korma says it needs to be cooked for five minutes, then six minutes will probably do, and four minutes won’t kill you. Probably.
As your skill level increases so most your precision. You must begin to follow recipes exactly, or something is going to go wrong, and you’ll either end up sick or hungry, or both. You have to cook X for exactly Y minutes, or you have to bake with exactly Z flour, otherwise the whole thing will crumble. That’s when precision is important.
When you become an even more skilled chef, then you can do away with precision again and just do things by eye, and by feel. You’ll make up your own recipes with your own quantities based on what tastes right.
My Mum is in that last category. She’ll never measure any prescribed amount of any ingredient. Instead she prefers to wing it. And she’s good enough to wing it.
I am not good enough to wing it, but I often try and frequently fail. So, although I got lucky with my assumption that cider vinegar was the next best thing if I didn’t have rice vinegar, I massively overestimated how much “4 tbsp” is, and ended up with what tasted like half a bottle of vinegar in my dinner.
Until tomorrow, I think it looks better than it tasted.