Friday, June 12, 2009 by Dave Blum

A few nights ago, I’m in my kitchen, standing over the hot stove, pots bubbling and boiling, and it’s clear to me that this meal is going very, very wrong.

What was I thinking, taking on so much new stuff all at the same time — mashed potatoes (which I’ve never made before), a new asparagus dish (pan fried), and a real toughie–poached salmon.  To make matters worse, my fish recipe conflicts with the one in the Joy of Cooking regarding how you poach salmon.  Should I use a little water and wine or a LOT of fluid? The darn recipes disagree!  Meanwhile, oil for the asparagus is burning in the pan and the first pot of potatoes has just come out lumpy and dry.  What a fiasco!

Luckily, my wife Jen notices my distress and pulls me aside, asking, “Dave, what is it you need?”

“What I need is some way of figuring out the correct way to cook this fish so I don’t ruin the whole meal.  These two recipes are driving me crazy.”

“Tell ya what, Hon.  Why don’t you turn off all the burners and let’s go check the Internet to see what it says about poaching salmon.”

So off we go the Web where, by golly, we quickly find a video(!) showing a chef poaching salmon — the proper way.  And guess what, it turns out you really DO need to immerse the fish entirely in liquid.

Trudging back to the stove with renewed resolve — armed at last with something approaching clarity — I again fire up the burners.  The asparagus goes in the oil.  The salmon gets its thorough dunking. The potatoes are salvaged by making up an extra watery batch and mixing in the contents of the dried-out spuds.  Fifteen minutes later, to both our amazement (most of all mine), I’m plating up our dinner — and everything is hot and cooked properly; everything tastes great.  Astonishing!  Three cheers for the team!

So, what’s the lesson from all this?

1) Often it’s best to try only one experiment at a time (rather than 3 or 4!), developing mastery at one thing before moving on to the next.

2) When the oil is really hitting the pan (so to speak), it helps to have someone (like Jen) who can step back from things and say, “Let’s slow down and talk about the process before we go back to the content.”

3) When faced with conflicting information, or lack of specific know-how, there’s always somewhere else you can turn for guidance.  If the Internet hadn’t been available, for example, I could always have “phoned a lifeline”…a friend, a parent, etc.

Jen and I really enjoyed our meal, as much for the taste as for the succesful problem solving.  Tonight, though, I’m voting for take out.   That’s lesson #4 — when in doubt, delegate.