Monday, August 20, 2012

UnRecipe: Asparagustatory Story

Good Taste. Bad Taste. What does it really mean to have a skilled palate? For some the answer is a culinary education background, learning about ingredients in a classic, academic environment. For others it could mean a willingness to at least try everything, no fear, with the understanding that having eaten something enough times, you'll develop an appreciation for it. Maybe it's a combination of both. I got to thinking about how we process flavors when I had a craving for asparagus, a tricky flavor all on its own, with a unique ability to tell a little something about ourselves.

Asparagus and egg pizza, it's what's for every meal - Photo by Wasabi Prime
My mind is fixated on flavors lately, as I'm in the middle of reading Barb Stuckey's Taste What You're Missing, about the wild and untamed science of savoring food. Likely more mild than wild for most bedside reading, there's no explosions, fast cars or girls in bikinis (at least not yet); instead, it's a pleasant stroll through the breakdown of how the human senses translate food to our body and mind, and why we adore some flavors but can't quite wrap our tastebuds around others. 50 Shades of Gray, it's not, but you'll be better enriched for it and not have to hide your shame behind another book jacket when reading it in public. 

One of the points that Stuckey makes in her book is about asparagus, and that it's an unusual litmus test for human senses. I cackle perversely over the fact that one of the amusements of asparagus is that it makes your pee smell. Maybe there's more 50 Shades of Gray going on than I thought. But honestly, it stinks and asparagus has made it abundantly clear that it's a vegetable that will not be ignored. Some people claim they don't have that pungent side effect after eating asparagus, but recent scientific discoveries point out that it's not whether that smell is present, but that it's a genetic difference in people's olfactory receptors that allow them to recognize it. It doesn't necessarily mean someone is a superhero with super-spidey-senses if you pick up a whiff of asparagus post-potty break, but it does make you think about the innate sensitivities people have, which apparently go as deep as our DNA. If only some people can sense certain things, how does that translate towards the ability to enjoy food? Granted, I'm not done with Stuckey's book yet, maybe there will be some revelation that when eating a candy bar, men just taste chocolate and sugar, but a genetic switch in the female genome is suddenly triggered by cacao, tapping into a primal endorphin rush that releases feelings of  rapturous bliss and a compelling desire to curl up on the couch to watch John Hughes movies starring Molly Ringwald. What, you don't get that after eating a chocolate bar?

Eating my greens, along with the glorious golden yellow hue of a gooey egg yolk - Photos by Wasabi Prime
In this process of reading Stuckey's book, I do find that I'm thinking more actively about food cravings and why something may feel so compelling to cook and eat. I was completely struck by the desire to make something with asparagus after seeing Chef Lisa Nakamura's asparagus and chevre crostini demo on a Q13 local news segment a little while back -- you can see the video here. Maybe it was because I really like asparagus and goat cheese, and don't need much convincing, but I remember having a very clear image in my head over what I wanted to eat, which was a variation on her recipe. Instead of putting the chevre and seasoned asparagus on a toast slice, I piled them atop thin pizza dough, with a big egg baked in the middle. Asparagus is a strange food. There's a reason why sommeliers are confounded by this funky green stalk -- it's grassy and bitter, and can bring out the bitterness in other things like an evil mother-in-law. But when paired with rich things like a creamy cheese or a runny egg yolk, somehow the flavors, much like The Force, is balanced in the universe, no stupid mitichlorian mythology required.The bitterness helps to cut through the rich yolk, the asparagus retains every fresh bite, despite its time in a hot oven. Somehow all these things work, and once you've had that balance before, maybe in the form of a platter of steamed asparagus with a healthy drizzle of hollandaise sauce, your brain just recognizes the pieces fitting together and you want it again and again.

Aspara-Egg-and-Chevre Pizza anyone? - Photos by Wasabi Prime
As I read more into Barb Stuckey's book, about how the sensitivity of tastebuds can be manipulated -- which I'm sure that's what happens with this combination of ingredients on the aspara-egg-and-chevre pizza -- it still feels like a bit of food magic. Even when something is complex with varying textures and uniquely-paired ingredients, and we may not be able to reverse-engineer what we're experiencing, it's like it just encourages our sense of taste even further, to continue staying hungry for something new.

1 comment:

  1. Wasabi, just discovered your blog @ a month ago bought Barbara Stuckey book Taste to help me with my anosmia (diminished sense of smell). great blog & great book. Aloha, Ann


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