Monday, January 20, 2014

Chinese Cooking for Off-Peak Electricity

I’ve been living with an off-peak electricity plan for only a short time, but already I’ve discovered that it is well suited to a Chinese approach to cooking supper.

The new electricity pricing plan I am on encourages me to put off evening electric use until after 6 p.m. That’s when the price goes down. If I want to save money on supper I can start cooking at 6:01. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start cutting up the vegetables beforehand. As it happens, that fits with the origins of the most familiar forms of Chinese cooking. The original idea there was that you can have a fire going for only a short time, perhaps because the small pile of sticks would burn away in a few minutes, so you have to do as much preparation as possible before you start the fire. The idea of thorough preparation before the cooking starts also fits my desire to keep the stove off until 6, but without delaying the meal until too much later. The same preparation principal applies regardless of whether I am following a Chinese recipe. I can cook faster by cooking at a higher temperature, in the Chinese style. Things happen faster at a higher temperature, though, so I have to pay full attention to stirring and turning the food — I can’t at the same time be chopping up something to toss in. Since this approach fits Chinese recipes so well, I may want to properly learn some Chinese recipes. I have attempted many of them but never really took the time to do them in the traditional way.

This is just today’s example of how non-linear progress is. A futuristic innovation in energy pricing has me revisiting a culinary tradition that took its shape centuries ago during a shortage of firewood. In my case, though, I actually have no shortage of firewood. I realize another option I have is to remodel my kitchen to incorporate a Franklin stove for cooking supper using wood as fuel. If people were to start doing that, that could turn a century of American cooking progress on its head.