Of late, cooking braises has become something of a learning experience for me – and not just on a culinary level, but on a spiritual and an emotional one, as well.
Those who know me best are aware that the past two and a half months have not been the easiest of times for me. I quit my job in December 2013, burnt out and worn out; I was totally at a loss as to what to do next with my life. There have been job interviews, manuscript submissions, scads of freelance work – but the experiences have not always been good. There have been outright dismissals, overt rejections, and times when clients would hedge about payment despite the fact that results were delivered on time and even on demand. Truly, it has not been the easiest time.
So what does my life have to do with learning how to braise things properly? Well, in learning how to cook a proper braise, I managed to learn a few things that I think everyone should know:
- Some things need a longer time to cook than most. In cooking, some cuts of meat tend to cook for a whole lot longer than, say, a chop or a filet mignon. In fact, the average cooking time for things like pork belly and pork legs is at least 45 to 50 minutes; beef offal – tripe and omasum, most likely – and oxtail take at least an hour. Like those tough cuts of meat, there are some things in life that cannot be rushed: in my case, finishing a novel took me the better part of ten months before I reached an ending that suited my purpose. Likewise, some job applications are worth the wait and so are the answers of some publishers who claim to take at least six months before reacting to a manuscript submission. Like the old saw goes, good things do come to those who wait…;
- Sometimes, you have to make do with what you have on hand. In cooking, this usually refers to the act of swapping one ingredient for another in case you ran out. (Case in point: if you don’t have shaoxing wine or Japanese mirin in the kitchen, citrus-flavored white or clear alco-pop works like a charm.) In life, however, it means one just has to grab each and every opportunity as it comes and to make the most out of it while it lasts. Which leads to…;
- The results may not necessarily look like the one in the cookbook/food magazine; that said, the results may not necessarily be what you expected. Because of the intensity of the soy sauce I have in my home pantry, my Chinese braises – sanbeiji [three-cups chicken] and the pata tim [braised pork leg] at the top of this post – tend to look darker than the ones in the cookbooks or food magazines from whence I got the recipes – but this isn’t bad. The same thing goes for one’s life: the results of one’s actions tend to be more than a little unpredictable – but they’re not all that bad. Indeed, some of the best experiences in my life were totally unexpected.
That said, with a little patience, a little ingenuity, and a whole lot of hope, life can become something as delectably savory as a well-executed braise.