Photo: Tamara Palmer
How To Use Music Techniques To Prepare Healthy Food
Food has been a popular theme in music throughout the ages. From countless songs from the '50s pop classic “Blueberry Hill” to DNCE's hit “Cake by the Ocean” and artists from Meat Loaf to Black Eyed Peas, there’s long been much crossover between the two worlds. In fact, GRAMMY-winning recording artists Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Trisha Yearwood are among the music stars who have come to prominence as cookbook authors.
If you weren’t much of a home chef before a pandemic forced many people into their kitchens to figure out how to keep themselves alive, you may be finding your cooking to be a bit dull, flat or monotone — especially if you’re working with a limited budget for food. You may already know that playing music that moves you while you’re cooking can make the whole culinary experience more fun, but actually channeling music techniques in the kitchen can lead to healthier and more flavorful results. Here’s how:
Assemble Your Ensemble
The vibe of a band has everything to do with its players. The same is true when you gather ingredients for your next edible masterpiece. Think of long shelf life pantry staples such as beans, rice and pasta and spices like turmeric, cumin, and chili powder as main instruments in your supper club’s house band. If you’ve got a solid spice cabinet and pantry as anchors, you can make even a solitary potato or other fresh produce guest stars that come and go into real treats.
Set the Tempo
Do you want to be the kind of chef who blazes in and out of the kitchen, making a quick bite at the pace of a banging techno track, or do you want to spend hours cooking up a slow, loving ballad that will last a while? Perhaps you want to do both, depending on the day. Every tempo is valid and can yield strong results. Try this: take that song you can't get out of your head and let it set the tempo for your next culinary creation.
Build a Sample Bank
If your goal is to cook in an economical way, but you don’t want to eat the same dish over and over, consider taking a few hours once or twice a week to cook up big batches of dishes such as soups, sauces and roasted, baked or stir-fried vegetables along with a pot of beans, rice or pasta that can all be portioned out in the refrigerator or freezer. All of these individual components can be made simultaneously and used later as a sample bank of sorts that you can combine in different ways to keep your palate feeling fresh.
Consider Song Structure
Just as a great song might have a hooky bassline, an unforgettable melody, sweet harmonies and a propulsive rhythm, your best savory dishes are likely to have a consistent structure that incorporates a balance such as chef Samin Nosrat’s avowed salt, fat, acid and heat.
"Just four basic elements can make or break a dish," Nosrat says "The more I travel and taste's the different cuisines of the world, the more I realize that good cooking is universal... be thoughtful, be curious. Good cooking is within reach for everyone."
Cover and Rearrange
Songwriters stand on the shoulders of giants when they put their influences to work on a new tune or create their own rendition of an old favorite. You can do this in the kitchen, too. Take a look at recipes online to get ideas on what to make with what you have, but feel free to deviate from the recipe in the same way that you might rearrange a classic song that you’d like to cover.
In other words, if you want to drop the beets from a beet salad recipe that has other accompaniments that you have — say, walnuts and goat cheese — go right ahead! Only you (and maybe those in your immediate household) will taste the symphony of your new creation, and every note is up to you.
Invent the Kitchen Remix
Cravings for rich, fatty foods can be all consuming (cake, cake, cake), but you don’t have to succumb all the way as long as you know how to remix your treats — perhaps it’s as simple cutting back the sugar in a comforting dessert recipe or sprinkling a little less cheese powder on your instant mac while stirring in a tangle of shredded kale.
You can also doctor a not so healthy dish to add some nutritious content or dress something more diet conscious with a decadent drizzle or topping — like crushed peanut brittle in your salad.
As in music, you’re always free to throw any pre-planned notions out the window and just improvise when you’re cooking! Those happy accidents that happen in the studio that are worth keeping can also happen in the kitchen, and if you’re flexible enough to freestyle, you might end up with a better and more personal meal than what any cookbook recipe could have yielded.
Once you’re ready to make music in the kitchen, friends, family, search engines and social media can all be excellent sources for finding recipes, should you need quick suggestions on what to create with your new-found enthusiasm and the ingredients you have on hand. If you really want to level your kitchen game up and consistently make your food sing, invest some time in learning some new cooking techniques. You’ll find lots of sound advice for all levels on Serious Eats. Have fun, keep it fresh and enjoy!