Look over the recipes in Delicious By Design and you will notice some consistent ideas. They aren’t necessarily simple to make (although many are) and they don’t all use locavore-approved ingredients (although many of them are better if you do) but they do rely on keeping the flavors and textures true to the original ingredients, whatever they are. The Adrian Ferran school of scientific deconstruction of foods into purees, foams and gels isn’t part of the DxD vocabulary.
One of my earliest attempts at making a complicated dish was cooking Salmon Pierogies from The Seafood Cookbook: Classic to Contemporary by the late great chef Pierre Franey. I went down to the fish market and they happened to be selling whole, freshly-cut fillets of salmon. I bought a beautiful three-pounder with glistening silver skin and bright orange flesh. The whole piece was easily 18 inches long. As awesome as the fish looked, the recipe called for it to be skinned, cut into little cubes and ground up in a food processor with eggs and cream. Even twenty-five years ago, it seemed wrong to destroy a perfect piece of fish (imagine serving it simply broiled in lemon juice, olive oil and maybe a splash of champagne vinegar on a big platter) by grinding it up and serving it as small oval fish balls in a dill cream sauce.
The pierogies turned out fine, although maybe they were a bit harder than they were supposed to be, but I couldn’t stop thinking what a disservice I did to that great fresh piece of salmon. And, of course, I couldn’t stop myself from telling everyone at the meal how guilty I felt. I learned two great lessons that day: First, respect your ingredients. The more awesome they are to start with, the simpler the cooking should be and the fewest ingredients and techniques chosen to enhance the natural flavor and presentation of the dish.
The second lesson? Don’t complain to your guests about your own cooking. You’ll either get pity-compliments, or agreement that you screwed up, and neither enhances the mood of a dinner party.
Here’s an example of how I like to cook. This recipe for Freshest Creamed Spinach only takes 10 minutes from start to finish, so you can make it right before you serve it. It uses a few simple ingredients and the star of the recipe—the baby spinach—is only cooked enough to blend its flavor with the small amount of cream sauce that it’s cooked in. And since the spinach itself supplies the liquid for making the finished sauce, all the good flavor is there, and despite the usual idea of creamed dishes containing cooked-to-death ingredients, this version tastes both fresh and luxurious at the same time.