Cooking the “Classics”

We all – well those of us who totally geek out on cooking and food – know those “classics” we want to try to make. You know, things like duck a l’orange, souffle, osso bucco, beef bourguignon…I could go on and on.

Here’s the thing. If you’ve never actually had that dish, how do you know if it’s any good? Or, if it’s awful, how do you know if you did it wrong or if all the hype was just that? You don’t.

Years ago, I decided to try to make the duck a l’orange. I found what looked like a nice recipe and bought a duck and all the ingredients. I followed the recipe. (I was still pretty young, so I followed recipes like they were the maps to my own little heaven.) In the end, it was meh. I thought the duck tasted too gamey. I felt like there was no way the skin should be as limp and soggy as it turned out. I wrote off duck a’lorange right there. But now, after years of cooking and having still never had the dish made by anyone near professional or expert, I am not so sure it was the ducks fault. I am actively seeking a chance to try this dish made by someone trained or taught through years of family cooking. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try it again if someone proves the dish deserves the hype.

Recently, I tried making osso bucco. The name just sounds so romantic. The main ingredient is expensive and rarely used, veal shanks. Again, I’ve never had osso bucco. I used a recipe by Anthony Bourdain, so you know he knew how to cook. (Yes, I’m still sad and will tear up if I talk too much about how he left this world.) But again, I was disappointed. Being older and wiser now, I am not writing off osso bucco. I am going to find someone in town who is known for doing it well and give it a try. Then we’ll see if maybe I should try again to make it.

I have not tried to make the beef bourguignon yet. I have had beef bourguingnon. I had it in Paris, at a quaint little bistro. I am a little intimidated to try to make it after that. It was amazing. And the recipes I find here are not quite like the dish I was served in the tiny little Parisian bistro. So, my challenge is to recreate the amazing dish I had there. The trick here is that I don’t have a recipe to use. I’ve explored various recipes out there to see what looks close to what I had, and I think I have a good idea of how to recreate it. Now, I just have to work up the nerve, knowing there’s a real possibility that some of that flavor came from being there, in that beautiful place.

I make new dishes all the time that I’ve never tried before, so I am not saying not to take the adventure. I’m just saying that if it doesn’t come out right the first time, maybe don’t right it off for 20 years. I mean, the first time I made penne a la vodka, it was a horrific nightmare my children held onto for over a decade. I’ve since discovered a beautiful recipe for the dish that my K loved. I had penne a la vodka once when I was about 14. The only thing I remember is being so excited by how exotic the dish was. So, maybe I’ll give that duck another chance too!

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