Beyond her bêtes noires, Nothing Fancy is the portal into Diana Kennedy's life at home. The recipes in the book are her personal favorites, from comfort foods to show-stoppers for important guests. Kennedy draws from her childhood in England and her life in Mexico, as well as peppering in a few international dishes from her travels.
We've excerpted Diana's brilliant bêtes noires below. In addition to chapters about her life and recipes for her favorite foods, she also covers her culinary addictions and the equipment she simply cannot do without. Enjoy Diana's unfiltered opinions on the proper way to enjoy and promote sustainable food. Nothing Fancy: Recipes and Recollections of Soul-Satisfying Food , New Edition is out now.
My Bêtes Noires
By Diana Kennedy
Now that I’ve been tagged as the “scourge of gastronomy,” I feel all but obligated to scourge away at some of the things that drive me mad in the food world—some of them just annoying and others that are essential to expose as the enemies of flavor.
I know, I know, this is the beloved salt of virtually all American chefs, and it seems to be the default choice in cookbooks and food magazines. I find the flavor pedestrian, and ever since it failed me in a corned tongue recipe, it’s been banned from my kitchen in favor of sea salt, the salt of the ancients. For years and years, I seemed to be the only cook in America who wasn’t on board with kosher, but then I learned that the late Marcella Hazan also loathed it, thought it added only sourness to food, and believed it basically ruined anything it touched. She used only sea salt. The various and little-known Mexican regional sea salts are the ones I use for everything. If you’re not used to using sea salt, it tastes saltier, so you can almost always halve the amount of salt in the recipe—but taste afterward to be sure it’s right.
Of course I was delighted to find my prejudice against kosher salt endorsed by Mark Bitterman in his authoritative book Salted (Ten Speed Press, 2010). To quote Mark: “Kosher salt is a processed food, with all mineral and moisture qualities intrinsic to real salt stripped away, and with a crystal structure fabricated by automated processes. The flavor is antiseptic, like the bright fluorescence of a laboratory on a spaceship drifting aimlessly away from earth.” And this: “When we cook with kosher salt we sanctify the artificial, we embrace emptiness . . .” Bitterman lists kosher salt as first under Industrial Salts, with a taste of “metal; hot extract of bleach-white paper towel; aerosol fumes” and “best with: marsupial roadkill” (p. 185).
And speaking of salt, for some reason the latest generation of bakers seems to have forgotten, or never learned, that you must always include a little salt anytime you’re baking with flour to bring out the maximum flavor of the wheat. I’ve had way too many tarts and pizza crusts that taste flat because the baker skipped the salt. Speak up!
Oh please, don’t invite me! That salty sameness throughout is SO boring. Surely it was meant only to preserve meats or fish in a hot climate.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) versus cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)
I am amazed at the inability of chefs to recognize the difference between true Ceylon (Sri Lanka) cinnamon (canela in Spanish) and cassia, the much cheaper pretender that is not only confused with the real thing but often labeled AS the real thing in the market, even gourmet markets. I can walk through a kitchen door and tell immediately if a baker is using cassia or cinnamon; the difference is that dramatic.
Cassia is used in South Indian dishes, and it’s much darker in color, with a harder bark. Sometimes called false cinnamon, it’s usually harvested in China or Vietnam. True cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka in quills, layers of bark, with a much lighter color and a more complex, haunting fragrance. It’s best to grind your own cinnamon, as with most spices, and to acquire it from a reliable source, such as spicetrekkers.com, who stock two grades of true cinnamon. Once you have that flavor in your repertoire, cassia simply won’t do.
Aside from the purported health benefits of the canola—of course, there is no such seed; it’s just an invented name for highly processed rapeseed— I dislike both the heaviness of the oil and its flavor. Banned from Quinta Diana.